Monday, 12 May 2008

Creation and it's place in faith Pt 3.

We now come to the final section of Genesis that we shall address for these series of posts. So far we have seen just how scientifically and logically inaccurate much of the creation myth is. Though some of the points made require a deeper understanding of science, others need only basic observable knowledge. It is a contentious point made by many Theists that we cannot know for certain how the Earth was created, and that scientific observations may be flawed. It is however hard to deny such issues as stars erroneously created on the underside of a shelf of land, or rivers that are geographically distant from each other. For the last parts of this series, we will look more closely at some of the logical errors surrounding one of the major beliefs in Christianity in particular, the idea of original sin. As before, we will use the translation found on the following website;

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"
2 And the woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.'"

Though the Bible does hold many supernatural events and elements in it's pages, an obvious point to make here is that snakes cannot talk. They lack the necessary vocal chords to produce the sounds required for speech, and their tiny brains would be unable to process the complex thought patterns needed to understand, let alone speak, a complex language. There are some who believe that the serpent in question was in fact Satan in disguise, though there is nothing in the Bible itself that suggests this is so. The text indicates that the snake in question was just another of God's creations, though it does make the snake's temptation of Eve and subsequently Adam rather odd. One has to assume from this either two possibilities; one, that the snake is infact Satan working against God's will, or two, that the snake is a construct of God and therefore acting within God's wishes. The fact that God would bother to place such a temptation for humans to fall into in the first place without prior knowledge that what they were doing was wrong is a strange proposition in the first place. One could argue that God intended for Adam and Eve to eat from the tree from the word go. Catch-all phrases like "God's Plan" attest to God having jurisdiction over not just all-creation, but all action within that creation.

4 And the serpent said to the woman, "You surely shall not die!
5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

This passage appears to suggest that, prior to the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve were ignorant of any kind of good or evil. Therefore it makes the act of the original sin, the transgression outlined above, akin to a small child accidentally trying to cross the road without prior knowledge of traffic. To grossly punish the child until the day it died would be considered by some to be child abuse. In the case of God and His children, namely Adam and Eve, this treatment is never really brought into question by Theists who believe in the creation myth. The punishment wrought on the pair, who by all accounts were blameless ignorant as they were about the actions they were performing, is severe on a level that is mind-boggling.

8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"

Again the apparent omnipresent nature of the modern day God is brought into question with this short anecdote. God is described as physically walking inside of the garden, suggesting a tangible presence. It also describes Him having to physically call out for Adam and Eve in order to find out where they are. Unless God had a momentary lapse in his divine powers, this behaviour doesn't make sense. For us it would be like calling out to a friend to find out where they are when they are stood directly in our line of view a few feet away. These lines make sense if God is a physical being with a normal periphery as we have, but is nonsensical when considered alongside the other properties given to God overall.

10 And he said, "I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself."
11 And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"
12 And the man said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

The same lack of omniscience seen above is displayed here, as God has to inquire whether or not Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Such a significant act, one that would cause the downfall of humanity from this point on, almost bypasses God were it not for his coincidental wanderings within the Garden. Again this is inconsistent with the properties of God in later texts and in many modern religions.

14 And the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

Snakes can be deadly killers, so it is no surprise that the Bible, primarily authored by people who lived around such animals, shows an animosity towards them. One also has to wonder what exactly had to change in regards to the snake for God to force it to move on it's belly. No specific physical changes are said to have occurred. Biologically speaking however, snakes like all other animals can be shown to have evolved over a gradual series of steps. Not only that but their physiology makes crawling on their bellies an advantageous property, since it allows them to stay hidden in tall grasses, makes it harder for taller animals to see them and their bodies allow them to attack their prey quickly or in the case of constrictors suffocate them. Certainly the apparent punishment given by God to the snake seems like a smack on the hand in comparison to what Adam and Eve, and according to some Theists by extension humans in general, are subjected to.

16 To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you."

Again from a biological point of view this idea of a painless childbirth is sketchy. Unless Adam and Eve were to produce offspring by some other method, as mammals humans give birth to their young after a number of months of gestation. This process naturally requires the mother to push the child out of their womb, causing tears to the surrounding tissues not to mention the pressure exerted from the muscles involved both in pushing the child out and pulling the pelvic bones apart to facility the birthing. Premature babies birthed from the womb by comparison to full-term babies have a very low chance of survival, especially since the baby is unable to eat or drink properly since fetuses rely on the umbilical chord for sustenance. Only a complete lack of any physically felt pain would result in a completely painless childbirth, a condition that would be detrimental to humans since it would result in countless unchecked injuries without any feedback to stop them. Pain acts as a signal to our brains, informing us if our bodies are being damaged. Those who suffer from leprosy often have multiple injuries on their hands and arms because of the numbing of their extremities.

17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.
18 "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return."

The ambiguity as to the changes in the ecosystem that humans have to deal with is again unclear. God speaks of thorns and thistles growing, though these plants presumably existed before since God supposedly created all of the known plants in one sitting. Bread is also mentioned, an oddity since it suggests that God had prior knowledge of bread before Adam and Eve, who presumably had no concept of milling, farming and baking. The actual production of Bread has been traced back to the Neolitihic era, approximately 10000~8000BC. This is long before the apparent age of the Earth according to the Genesis account, though this scientific interpretation is backed up by dating of artifacts found in areas such as Greece and China. Also worth pointing out is the usage of dust as the composite ingredient of humans. Biological cells do share some of the atomic components found in the ground, though they differ greatly in their ratios and general composition. The idea of humans returning to the Earth may be seen as allegorical, were it not for Genesis' own story of describing the creation of humans from clots of dirt. When God says man shall return to dust as he is dust, God means it literally. Decomposition of human remains is caused by the breakdown of the cells by bacteria and other microscopic bodies. Humans placed into the ground decompose faster due to soil's high bacterial content.

20 Now the man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.
21 And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
22 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"--

We have been using the term Adam and Eve to describe the two first humans as according to Genesis, but it is noteworthy that Eve isn't actually named until her husband Adam gives her a name. Much of the Genesis myth revolves around the idea that women are subservient and below men, having come second in the creation order and forced the hand of man towards sin. God's original punishment for Eve even involves complete servitude to her spouse. God also uses the term "Us" again, suggesting other parties involved within the Genesis account of creation, and throws into question God's place as the only deity in existence.

23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.
24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.

So the initial story of creation within Genesis ends with humans barred from the Garden of Eden for eternity. This is also the first mention of the cherubim, a class of angel who aren't mentioned within the list of entities directly created by God but are elaborated on briefly in other parts of the Bible.

The Genesis creation myth, as we have categorically seen, has no place within the confides of reality as a suitable retelling of the origins of life and the Earth. Even if one were to disregard scientific theories about evolution and the age of the Earth and Universe, it is hard to reconcile the obvious logical fallacies that are present. Of course many Theists would argue that the creation myth is just that; a myth, and that those who wrote the Bible were just lacking in knowledge about the necessary sciences to make an accurate portrayal of the origins of Earth. Such arguments fall short when one considers that the Bible is meant to be the divinely inspired word of God Himself. Blatant scientific falsities shouldn't be present, especially when coming from the metaphorical horses mouth. To suggest the text's source is anything but divine is to bring into question the source and nature of the rest of the Bible, a subject I shall cover in greater detail in another article.

We started off these series of posts by looking at some of the other creation myths found in other religions. It is no surprise that throughout human history and through human religions, different creation myths have come about with differing details. Though all of them hinge on the idea of a supreme being or beings responsibility in creating the Earth, none of them come close to describing the sheer scale of our Universe, or touching upon even the most basic of scientific principals and understandings. These myth stories make sense if they are taken in the context as having been written in a time when humans knew little if nothing about the world in which they inhabited. What is apparent however is that certain creation stories are given more creedance than others. No one today would legitimately go through the courts to have children learn that the world was created by the Titans from Greek mythology, or that the Earth was forged from the eyebrows of Ymir. These ideas would be rightfully laughed out of the classroom as unscientific. Yet today the educational integrity of many students is under threat from people who have deep beliefs a similarly unscientific creation myth, people with the exact same deeply held spiritual beliefs as that of the ancient Greeks or Norse tribes of Scandinavia.

Because of religious faith many millions of people across the world truly believe in the creation story as told by Genesis. Yet it doesn't take more than a high-school level understanding of science (my own personal qualification level equivalent) to see just where this story is flawed. It is only through a combined ignorance of what we now know about the world and unerring faith that these stories are given any credence today. But think of how future generations will see the myths of Genesis, especially with the steadily advancing educational systems across the world and further scientific inquiry uncovering new and exciting layers to our reality. By comparison even today the stories of the Bible seem simple and backward, an indication of the general ignorance that was common place at the time when the books were first wrote. Many of us are told as children that babies come from storks or other such places, yet none of us deny the truth of sexual intercourse as we grow older. It is this same stark contrast of facts and fiction that we face when examining the creation myths of Genesis.

In the next post, we will be looking into detail about the Great Flood, an event that many creationists today insist occurred on the planet in it's history.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Creation and it's place in faith Pt 2.

The previous post ended after the first chapter of Genesis. As we have seen, the entire text is rife with scientific errors. These are not errors that are contrived and difficult to observe and understand; the most obvious of these is the fact that the creation and properties of the stars are completely wrong. It is telling that many creationists are willing to try and convince people of the validity of a young Earth and the creation story, yet don't seem to be arguing about the compositions of stars. This is because unlike the creation of Earth, a subject we know a lot about yet not enough to give hard facts, it is a losing argument.

Following is the next chapter of Genesis. This uses the same translation as I used in the previous post found at the following link;

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.
2 And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

As previously explained, the scientific creation of the Earth comes about by a process of a star producing the necessary elements to create a dense body, that star spewing it's contents into space once it goes supernova, and the parts proceeding to coalesce around another star. This process, from what we can observe takes a very long time. Certainly the estimate of seven days is way short of the true length of time needed, which is closer to billions of years from the first ignition of the star that creates the necessary components. Earth itself is believed to have formed about 4.54 billion years ago, as part of a solar nebula, a ring of dust that contributed not only to the formation of our own Sun, but the creation of the other planets of the solar system. It's worth noting that no mention of these other planets is made in any part of the Genesis creation story.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.

Another example of the metaphysics present in the Genesis account, the book describes how water used to be distributed by rising from the ground in a mist. This celestial watering method appears to have fallen out of favour of God later on to be replaced by rain. Mist of course is known to exist, but it does not spring out of the ground. It is formed naturally by water droplets suspended in the air at ground level, much like clouds in the upper atmosphere are, when the air is particularly cold. Even if water were to spring from the ground as described, there is no real system by which this can occur. There would have to be a necessary amount of pressure distributed evenly beneath the ground that allowed the mist to be push up out of the ground. The ground could conceivable hold all the moisture to be distributed, however it would quickly become spongy and swamp-like, certainly unsuitable for larger plants such as bushes to root effectively.

7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.

While the idea of humans being formed out of dust is ridiculed by some, there is a small grain of truth to this. Abiogenesis theories (the study of the formation of life) suggest that the first forms of primitive life, nothing more than self-replicating proteins encased in lipids, might have first began within certain formations of rocks that provided a molecular "scaffolding" around which these organic chemicals could have formed and then bonded. However, this again is a natural process, and is only applicable to the very first creations of life. No "breath of life" is necessary for this process to take place. The spontaneous creation of humans in this manner would be akin to a bomb exploding in the middle of a building and all of the bricks falling in the impact back into their original position, leaving the building intact. As it happens we know a lot about our biological history, and clear relations to the Great Ape family of animals and a common ancestry with them show that we emerged, like all other life on Earth, from the process of evolution, a topic I shall cover at a later date.

9 And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers.
11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.
12 And the gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there.

Mentioned here is the river of Pishon and the land of Havilah. While there are some theories as to the exact location of the Pishon within the real world, there is no clear evidence exactly where this river can be found. Indeed, the text seems to suggest that the following four rivers converged on the point where Eden can be found.

13 And the name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush.

Again another river and land are mentioned. While the Gihon doesn't have a definitive real-life equivalent, Cush is often associated in other parts of the Bible with Ethiopia. This is an important fact to keep in mind in regards to the other two rivers;

14 And the name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Unlike the other two rivers above, the Tigris and the Euphrates are both rivers that can be positively identified. They happen to run almost parallel to each other, starting Turkey before moving into Iraq. Though they have their origins in the eastern part of Turkey, the Gihon, if it does indeed flow around Ethiopia as it suggested, is about a thousand miles away from it's source. At present there is no direct river running from Turkey to Ethiopia, and neither the Tigris nor the Euphrates come close to it, with both rivers running off into the Persian Gulf long before they run anywhere nearby. Young Earth creationists tend to disregard ideas such as tectonic plate movements since the requisite millions of years needed cannot work within the the short time scale of 6000 years. Even a catastrophic event such as the Great Flood, another subject I shall be covering later, wouldn't have changed the geography so drastically to remove a river running from eastern Turkey all the way to Ethiopia, or indeed move the entire land of Ethiopia far enough away from Turkey and Iraq to make the geography work.

15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."

This is quite an obvious statement to make, one that has been made by many over the years, but if God had created a paradise for humans to live in why place a tree within that would cause humanity to be cursed forever? Logistically this is like a parent giving their child a series of toys along with a knife, and then telling them not to play with the knife. Invariably curiosity will get the better of the toddler and you'd most likely be taken away for child abuse. As is mentioned in the later parts of Genesis, the concept of sin and by extension good and evil were not present in the mind of the first humans. This is something we shall discuss later on.

18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."
19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
20 And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

As is the case with the repeated creation of the Heavens, God is said to create every animal and the birds again in this chapter. This is nothing short of a blatant contradiction, one that doesn't require an understanding of science to see. One also has to wonder how, logistically, Adam named every creature on the face of the Earth, and indeed why Adam doesn't go to the trouble of naming any of the vegetation, or any marine animals.

21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place.
22 And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
23 And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."

This passage is of particular contention amongst many religious groups, specifically in relation to attitudes towards women. Since Genesis claims that woman came directly from man this is seen by some as a license to consider women lesser creatures to men, subservient due to their method of creation. As we know from science however this is just not true. For one thing, it would be impossible to recreate a female from the tissue sample of a male owing to the fact that the DNA, the genetic code that determines the outcome of an organism's physical properties, is markedly different for males and females. DNA is paired up in most organisms in strands known as chromosomes. Everyone has two pairs of each chromosome, with only one from each parent contributing to their offspring. Even if the XY chromosomes, the pair of DNA structures that contribute towards the sex of a person, were manually changed by God, there would still be a major issue with inbreeding owing to Adam and Eve's genetic similarities. Incest, as it happens, isn't much of a problem for the Bible in terms of explaining creation, since such actions are required to explain how the entire of humanity could come from a single biological pair. The act of incest is genetically detrimental to humans however, since genetic diseases such as hemophilia can only be expressed if the chromosome pairs from both parents carry the mutated gene, described as being recessive. An incestuously conceived child will most likely suffer from sterility, stunted growth, increased asymmetry of the face and reduced resistance to disease. Presumably the second generation of humans descended from Adam and Eve would have expressed many of these physical disorders, provided that the mechanisms behind genetic inheritance were the same.

24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

There is not much to say about this passage, apart from to note the mention that Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness, a phenomena attributed to the Bible to their lack of understanding of good, evil and knowledge. In a sense this is the Bible's argument for the old saying "Ignorance is bliss". This continued idea of Adam and Eve being devoid of Sin (in the literal, Biblical sense of the world) brings into question the significance of the idea of Original Sin, a topic we will go into with the next post.

Part 3 coming sometime next week.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Creation and it's place in faith Pt 1.

One of the many questions we as humans have the unique ability to ask is "Where did we come from?". We live in a world where actions lead to consequences; a knocked-over vase will invariably fall to the ground and shatter into thousands of tiny shards, pressing down on the accelerator of a car will make it travel forwards and so on. Therefore, via a process of backwards reasoning, it is easy to see why we, as a species, would come to the conclusion that there was some initial action, performed by an entity, that created our world and everything we see in it. Since we live in a world in which vases don't spontaneously launch themselves off tables, or where cars are capable of propelling themselves without activating their internal combustion engine without some kind of force behind it, invariably the source of this action is labeled God or something similar.

However, as explained in the previous post, none of the ancient myths regarding the creation of our world in particular carry any explanation as to the Universe at large. Indeed, it seems that the Gods of religions over the years were content to concern themselves with the immediate vicinity of a single planet. Our observations of the speed at which galaxies move and background heat radiation in the deepest reaches of the Universe have shown that there was indeed some cataclysmic event, colloquially known as the "Big Bang", that was the initial action. Yet despite this grandiose event, one that is worthy of note being as it is the creator of everything we see and are, goes completely unmentioned in the texts of every religion on the planet today. Really the modern rationalization in many moderates, a result of these recent understandings of our Universe and particular place in it, are not the result of the insight of their respective texts but rather their understanding of reality based on remarkably short-sighted viewpoints.

It's with this in mind that we can turn to the texts of creation myths with a critical eye and effectively ignore the bigger questions of the Universe as a whole. Unless one were to produce a religious text that gave mention to the billions of galaxies we see and detailed their creation process, we can safely assume the average religious text only covers the celestial or divine events that resulted in our world. There are many myths that could be analysed, but for our purposes we shall look at the creation story as told (twice no less) in the book of Genesis, the first religious text in Judaism and Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam (though the Islamic recounting of the creation of the world is notably different in the detail). Many issues regarding the teaching of evolution and intelligent design stem directly from this book, with the assumed age of the Earth by creationists, a mere 6000 years, a result of literally counting back through the generations described in the Bible. We shall take the text line for line, pausing to add commentary where it is necessary and to discuss some of the major scientific errors present.

This translation is from the following website;

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Immediately, on the very first line, the Bible gets it downright wrong. Unless the heavens, a term often used in the Bible to describe the immediate sky around the Earth, could be construed as the depths of space, this line grossly understates the necessary steps needed to create a planet. We know from the observation of other celestial bodies that planets do not simply pop into existence. There is a very clear series of steps we can follow. The denser elements, such as the majority of metals and importantly organic elements that give rise to life, are created deep within the burning furnace of a star. Stars are gigantic nuclear reactors, with their primary source of fuel being hydrogen. The processing of hydrogen into energy acts as a molecular laboratory, producing elements with higher proton and neutron amounts. Once a star goes supernova, after it has long since burned out all of it's hydrogen fuel, these elements are spewed into space. There they begin to gather back together through gravitational forces, and if the clouds of dust are fortunate to gather in an orbit around another star (see the rings of Saturn for a smaller scale demostration, or the asteroid belt in our own solar system), they will eventually gather together to form a planetoid. This isn't even mentioning the necessary prerequisites that bring the star into existence, a process that occurs deep in Nebulae, colossal gatherings of gases that provide the atmospheric conditions for hydrogen to ignite and produce a star.

2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

As was mentioned above, dust clouds only ever coalesce into suitably large bodies around other larger gravitational forces, such as suns. Further into the text this inaccuracy is even more striking and obvious. It's also worthy that the Bible describes the Earth as being covered in water. More on this particular point below. As a final note, it is odd that God is described as a spirit "moving over the surface of the waters". This is a distinctly tangible prescence for a supposedly omnipresent God. Indeed, this ability of universal observation is a trait that only seems to have latched onto God later on in the Bible.

3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

Even a child will tell you that light and darkness do not require separating from each other. Wherever light is produced, darkness will be eliminated. Light itself is a form of electromagnetic radiation, with visible light a stupendously small section of possible "bandwidths" of this radiation. What our eyes perceive is effectively this radiation, which travels in the form of waves, shaped much like the waves you see in the ocean. These waves travel into our eyes, interact with the various components of the eye, producing an image that is sent to the brain. Darkness itself is not really a tangible entity, as it is merely a state in which no visible light rays are present. Radio waves are another type of electromagnetic radiation, though the crests of the waves are much further apart. Shorter wavelengths produce X-rays and Gamma Rays, often used in medical application but deadly to humans and other types of organic life in large doses. Yet none of these different wavelengths produce any kind of visible light for us to see. Our eyes are blinkered to the vast array of the electromagnetic spectrum, an analogy eloquently expressed by Professor Richard Dawkins as "the mother of all Burkas". If the eyes of the Burka were an inch long, representing our perception of electromagnetic radiation, the Burka would be massive in size, with many miles of materials covering the body, and equally as much covering the head. So even when we humans may see darkness, "light" is still present.

5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

It is worth pointing out now that the Bible refers to a day passing. This is important further on in the text.

6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."
7 And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so.
8 And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

Firstly, it's worth noting that God appears to have made a blunder in regards to the creation of the Heavens. Remember back in the very first line, God is described to have created the Heavens and the Earth. Unless this is a very badly written prose that fails to properly attenuate the present action of the protagonist (in this case Yahweh), the action of the creation of the Heavens is performed twice. Secondly, the "expanse" as described in this passage is a literal covering that is said to cover the entirety of the Earth. Heaven, in a very literal sense, is real according to the Bible, an actual tangible plot of land floating above the Earth. Our travels to the moon and expansion, however small, into the deepest reaches of space via satellites, have proven this theory to be utterly false. Also note yet another mention of a day passing.

9 Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear"; and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.

Credit where credit is due, this description is somewhat marginally accurate. It is true that the seas as they are present on the Earth are not a permanent fixture. The geography of the globe changes over many millions of years, the production of plate tectonics which see massive sections of land moving and grinding against each other on top of a "bed" of viscous magma. These movements can be seen in mountain ranges, where plates have driven against each other literally forcing the ground up into the air, or conversely in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean in the form of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. However, the idea of water gathering together to form dry land is contentious. The net amount of land present on Earth is a result of two factors; one is the amount of water present that isn't currently in a vapour or ice form, and the other is the natural layout of the surface of the planet. Though the continents have moved away and towards each other over many millions of years, the general size of the land has remained constant. The unique shapes of the present continents suggest that at one point the entire of the Earth's landmass was a single Supercontinent known as Pangaea. Taking all this into account, the Bible's description of the creation of the land is remarkably simple in the context of what we now know about plate movements.

11 Then God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth"; and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

There are a few errors to point out here. First is that, as we shall soon see, at this point in the creation story there is no Sun present to allow the plants to photosynthesize. Though plants are capable of living for short periods without sunlight, many species will quickly wither and die if they are not exposed to some form of light. In regards to the order of the creation of organisms on Earth in general, evolutionary science has shown us that animals and plants evolved at around the same time and parallel to each other. One did not come observably before the other. This isn't even mentioning the millions of years prior to any multi-cellular organisms being present, where the most complicated life were single cell Prokaryotes. Then again, many believers may disregard the process of evolution as being against the idea that God created life on Earth. This is a subject we will look at in greater detail sometime in the future, but for now it is important to note that plants and animals do not appear at different points in the observable timeline of life on Earth.

14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years;
15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so.
16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.
17 And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,
18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

In this section, the "greater light" and the "lesser light" are the sun and the moon respectively. Immediately, we see a problem since the moon itself does not produce any light. As Earth's only visible satellite from the surface of the planet, the light we see is the result of light from the sun reflecting at various angles. As the moon orbits the planet it "waxes and wanes", creating the unique passing of light over the surface. The Bible appears to imply that the moon produces it's own light and given governance over the night. Still this could be seen as allegorical, but after all what we are supposedly reading is an accurate record of the creation of Earth. Stars are mentioned, but their composition isn't given. Indeed, with their position in "the expanse", the literal dome over the planet, the Bible completely and utterly gets it wrong on this front. We know what stars are; they are massive spheres that burn hydrogen. Our Sun is such a star, while the ones we see in the sky are massive distances away. Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth apart from the Sun, is 4.2 light years. Light years is a unit of measurement, with one light year the distance a ray of light can travel in a vacuum over the space of a year. This is a insanely huge distance, close to 9.4 trillion kilometres. Thus the Bible's idea of the stars, stuck onto a dome just a few hundred feet above the surface of the Earth, is downright childish. Lastly, it is only at this point that the sun is even created. Prior to this day and night was cycling somehow, yet even the most creative mind would be hard pressed to figure out how exactly this is probably without a sun present to define the start and end of each day. God may have created light prior to this and separated it from the darkness, but there is no mention of the passing of that light over the Earth, or indeed if it does pass at all.

19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

As we have seen in the previous paragraph, this is now technically the first day.

20 Then God said, "Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens."
21 And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth."
23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

Again like the idea of plantation being present before animals, evolutionary speaking birds did not come before land animals. Modern day birds are direct descendants of Dinosaurs and other such therapods. While there is some accuracy in water-bourne organisms coming before land animals, water being the optimum environment for life to emerge, it is still after the production of plants, again events that did not happen separately but concurrently with each other.

24 Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so.
25 And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

Since in the previous lines no mention was made of single-cell organisms or dinosaurs, it's no surprise then that land animals are all created at once in a similar vein. This is again a gross simplification, though not as starkly inaccurate as the previous order. However it is again noteworthy that land animals and birds have evolved in tandem with each other, and indeed land animals far predated their flighted cousins.

26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

It may be a moot point to bring this up before we have fully discussed the issue of evolution, but the spontaneous creation of humans is again inaccurate to reality. Modern humans, like every other organism, are the result of millions of years of evolution. In our case we diverged from the "Great Ape" families such as chimpanzees and bonobos some 2.5 million years ago. It is also odd that God would say "let Us make man in Our image". God is supposed to be a single entity, the only entity present since the beginning of time. Just who is this "Us" and "Our" that God refers to? Even more telling is that God mentions "Our image". This suggests that God, anthropomorphically speaking, bares at least a passing resemblance to humans. Of course, this idea of personifying deities is nothing new. The pantheon of Greek gods all had distinctly human traits associated with them. Thus it is no surprise this same occurrence happens with the God of the creation story. In this sense, it is God who resembles us rather than we resembling God, a theme that I shall discuss in further posts.

29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.
31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

It is worth pointing out that, while as omnivores we are capable of eating a variety of food substances, the vast majority of plants and meats are not suitable for human consumption. In mild cases they may induce vomiting and in more severe cases death. Even in relatively biologically benign countries, such as the UK, many berries found on trees and bushes contain deadly chemicals such as cyanide. Uncooked meat in particular can be dangerous, with shellfish (any kind of organism that "sifts" it's food in order to eat) a major cause across the world. A counter argument to this would be that this was the perfect "Garden of Eden" as discussed later in the book of Genesis, though at this point there is no distinction between the plants of Eden and the plants outside of this garden.

Part 2 coming up within the next few days.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The (mostly) empty universe

Throughout much of human history, where science could not answer questions we would fill in the blanks with myth. Old Norse mythology claimed that our world was sand witched between various others containing mythical entities such as Aesir or Dwarves. Greek mythology had our world carried on the shoulders of the Titan Atlas, whose name to this day refers to maps of our planet. Taoism has Pangu, the de facto creator of the Earth, pushing the ground and the sky apart before becoming the various elements of our universe, including the wind, stars, sun and moon. Whether or not any of these stories provoke a feeling of grandeur and untold complexity, the truth of the matter is they are, in cosmological terms, remarkably stunted. None of them even hint at the utter vastness of our Universe. Many of these creation myths seem content with describing the creation of the Earth as a one-time deal, without any mention of other planets, and stars an arbitrary element without real purpose.

Cosmology and the observation of our Universe, even on a local scale, has produced a reality that no creation myth comes close to describing. To say that our planet is small in comparison to the Universe at large would be a gross understatement. If one were to make an analogy, if the Universe were represented somehow in terms of the Earth itself, our planet wouldn't even be the smallest part of the smallest element of the smallest atom. Our Universe is vast, more vast than any one human could possibly comprehend. It is not inconceivable to assume that if every human were to document each inch of the sky in terms of stars, planets and so on, we wouldn't have covered a fraction of what was present in the Universe by the time we died.

In this sense, the idea that Earth was created specifically by God for the purpose of his divine plan is in many ways ridiculous. Talk to any believer and more often as not they will recount to you just how significant our small planet really is, how is it the only planet that God has seen to grace with life. Looking beyond the fact we've yet to find hard evidence of sentient life in the Universe, taking this viewpoint when considering the Universe at large takes a mind-bogglingly rejection of basic facts.

The amount of redundancy, according to Theists, is staggering on a scale that is difficult to communicate. Let's start out small; consider our own solar system. Arguments on the status of Pluto or other bodies as planets or not aside, it is clear to us that there are other planets currently orbiting our Sun. On clear nights at the right times of year with telescopes you can easily confirm this yourself, with both Venus and Mars clearly visible. However many planets there may be around our Sun, it is clear only one houses life at present; Earth. Currently there are theories that life may be present on Mars in certain underground caverns, and the icy waters of Io, one of the satellites of Jupiter, may prove fruitful. Even evidence of simple bacterial life was found in meteorites from Mars.
When considering the necessary unique construction of our planet as sole benefactor to human life, one has to take a long think as to what possible purpose the other planets might serve in a Theistic world. Certainly they were never intended for us to live on, given their considerably hostile environments compared to our own. Their gravitational fields have no effect to us on Earth, and we never come close enough to their orbit for them to have any real significance. In short, the other planets in our solar system, as is the life that was once, and could still be present, on Mars, are redundant.

Head out a bit further, to other stars in our galaxy. Our Sun is just one of many stars clumped together in a galaxy formation. The amount of stars in a single galaxy is difficult to give a precise number for, but estimates put it between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars. Attempting to convey just how vast a number that is is difficult for humans, because we rarely have to deal with numbers so large. To put it into some kind of context, with the most conservative estimate possible of two hundred billion, if one were to count from one to this number, and each number took a second to say, it would take approximately six thousand, three hundred and thirty seven years to finish counting. While not every star in our galaxy would have planets, there is still the problem of what purpose the huge amount of other stars would serve given we get all of our needed heat and light from our Sun already. The approximate percentage redundancy of stars in our universe, if you consider our star to be the only significant one, is 99.99999999995%.

Now let's consider the rest of the Universe, namely all the other galaxies. While we cannot say for certain how many galaxies exist given that what we can observe of the Universe is based primarily on the speed of light (namely certain galaxies being so far away that the light they emit has yet to reach us), approximations put it at the hundreds of billions. This is again a vast number. In this sense we're not just talking hundreds of billions of redundant stars, but hundred of billions of billions of redundant stars. To put this kind of redundancy as a percentile would be futile as it would take several pages to type out the value. If one were to apply the same logic of counting every second to count all of the stars in the Universe, even if you were to have begun counting at the believed creation of the Universe, some 13.7 billion years, you still wouldn't have finished it to this day, and would most likely have many more billions of years left to count. It is near to indescribable just how much of our Universe is redundant if you truly believe that the Universe was created for humans alone. This isn't even considering the vast distances between the galaxies which are usually exponentially greater than the size of the galaxies themselves, distances in which nothing but the occasional single atom can be found.

It is hard to truly express just how redundant a lot of Universe is if you believe that the Earth is the only planet of worth, or at the very least the only planet worthy of God's good work. No single figure can hope to express it adequately, and many people will just not even give the idea any thought. But if it is indeed true that the entirety of creation is present solely for one planet, ours, amongst all others, one has to wonder just why God would throw so much into such a relatively small project.

A very faithful disbelief

When I was a young boy, not much older than six years of age, I began attending what is the entry-level educational curriculum in the United Kingdom, a time colloquially known as Junior School. Prior to that my life had been at best a blur, and at worst totally unremembered. My earliest memories of life were of my grandmother pointing to a calender, telling me not to use it until the following year. It is very probable that this memory, one that I still remember clearly to this day, was in fact a dream, or perhaps a mish-mash of other memories. From what I could gather, my memories began sometime in December of 1990, at the age of four. There are large gaps in my memory from that initial spark of consciousness, but from I could gather my knowledge of the Bible, and indeed of God, was either inconsequential or non-existent. That changed of course, once I entered Junior School.

Back in the early nineties it was compulsory for children in the UK to engage in Christian prayers, listen to Christian tales and be taught Christian values. I have since learned that such practices have since been ruled out in favour of more secular assemblies. Never-the-less, much of my childhood life revolved around the stories of the Bible. Even at such a young age I found myself filled with incredulity as to the truthful nature of the stories I was being told. My mother, a person I owe a lot of my moral values to and love very much for that, was not someone who beat about the proverbial bush when it came to matters of truth and knowledge. When I was five I asked the dreaded question "Mummy, where do babies come from?". Unlike some parents who may have passed off the question with a scientifically invalid "Stork Theory", I was treated to a number of diagrams showing the act of sex, the development of the fetus in the womb, and then the subsequent method by which the baby is birthed. Some might say such images are a bit much for a child to consider, but I found myself utterly fascinated by the whole process. It was this early exposure to the complexities of life that piqued my interest in such things. In our house we had a Readers Digest Atlas, the contents of which I can still remember to this day. It had the standard maps of the world at the time, a section I occasionally perused over with glee, but it was the preface chapters to this that really astounded me. It detailed a very brief explanation as to how the Universe was created based, detailing the initial Big Bang, leading up to the Earth forming from the dust particles of a supernova to, somewhat morosely, the eventual destruction of Earth by our very sun.

So it was with heavy cynicism I listened to the stories of the Bible, such as the creation in Genesis, the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel etc. Even back then it struck me as odd that I was being told one thing by one source, that the Earth was created by a cosmological accident, and told something contradictory by another. In the end I came to the conclusion that the stories in the Bible were just that; stories. It was the only way to explain why Dinosaurs, animals we were told lived millions of years ago, weren't mentioned going onto the Arc two by two, or why God managed to create light long before he created the sun. It made sense if you considered the stories in the Bible were false. This eventually led to me being somewhat of a rebel and refusing to bow my head in prayer during assembly, a practice that gained the contention of my teachers. Needless to say I was relieved when a visiting tutor from the Comprehensive school were we due to go to, the next step in UK education, informed us that we would not be taking part in such needless wastes of time again.

Fast forward in time about two years, and religion had played little to no purpose in my life since then. As a child I had never attended church, and the move from Junior School to Comprehensive had meant that state-sanctioned religiosity was no longer a concern. I could never remember being concerned about any kind of belief in God, though I probably wouldn't have called myself an Atheist at that point in time. Christianity was to make a comeback in my life however, in form of one my good friends who I'm still very close to. He invited me to attend his Church. On reflection of my previous experiences bored stiff and incredulous in Junior School assemblies, I was informed that on the whole, the Church was more of a social club than anything else. A place to meet new people and hang out and have a good time. My first experience in such an environment proved to be anything but relaxing. Once "the worship", as it is colloquially known, had begun, people engaged in various amounts of hand waving, chanting, tongue-waggling etc. At one point I retreated into the toilets to ring my mother up asking for an emergency evacuation. Not wanting to put to fine a point on it, I was freaked out. Yet I had still enjoyed the company of the other patrons of the Church, and found myself attending their various events more frequently as I grew older.

At this point in my story, many of you may expect me to talk about how I converted to Christianity soon after. Well unfortunately it is not as simple as that. However much I enjoyed my time I spent there (I did immensely as it happens, and have many dear friends who still attend that same church), my mind just refused to cave into the same beliefs as those around me. That early childhood curiosity of the truth, of seeing the world in terms of observable evidence than blind faith, meant that for the duration of my time spent at the Church, I never once found myself believing anything that was being said. Over the years I have gained a deep understanding of the modern-day Christian faith, which to me seems more like a spiritual glee club than an actual religion. It was here that I was first introduced to some of the hypocrisies of modern-day faith; the idea of a personal God, the "divine plan", prayer healing etc. (It's worth pointing out that no one ever claimed to be miraculously healed at this Church, though when ill people did get better it was invariably by the grace of God).

My time spent at the Church was a happy one, and I wouldn't change it for anything. But in my adult life I have to come to terms with the fact that my presence there was nothing more than superfluous. It would be like Kate Moss attending a Weight Watchers seminar, or a vegetarian attending a weekly steakhouse run. I was there for no other reason than the people. So it partially broke my heart when one of my very good friends took me to one side and personally asked me to become a fully-fledged Christian. I can honestly say it was the most welcomed I had ever felt. Some may have collapsed under the sentimental pressure right there and then, but I knew that it would have been a lie for me to agree to such a thing. I politely declined, and we have remained friends since. After moving to London my attendance at the Church when I did visit home was limited primarily to social gatherings, places where I didn't have to sit through readings from the Bible or testimonials from the true believers about the goodness of God.

I wanted to start off this blog by recounting this story, because invariably I will gain an excess amount of comments from believers claiming that I don't know what I'm talking about or don't understand the true grace of God. From this perspective, I hope you all understand that I know of where I speak. Everything I say in regards to Christianity in particular is "from the horses mouth" as it were. I can't speak for every Christian or every denomination, but I can speak from my own experience and the set boundaries of logic. This blog will set out to point out the logical errors in many of our modern day beliefs. I will endeavour to use science, reason and logic to clearly define just why the beliefs of many humans alive today are wrong. You may not like what I say or how I say it, but all I ask is that you listen to what I have to say. Even if you walk away from this without picking up anything I say and continue to live your life as you see fit, at least I can say I tried to get through. Because to me faith is the most dangerous, devise and deadly way of thinking we face in our modern culture. We are in a position now where we can either hold onto iron-age philosophy as the unmoving greater truth of reality, or open ourselves to the possibility of the scientific truth of our reality.