Atheist Bible Study – In the Beginning…

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2007 at 5:49 am

I’ve finally begun my reading of the Bible. So far the biggest problem has been finding time to actually sit down and read some. I’ve made it about half way through Genesis so far. Remember that I’m trying to read this critically, so this will probably be slow going. I’ll be taking each “story” so to speak and posting my reactions to it. Trying to post something on an entire book probably won’t work (except for maybe some of the shorter books).

So, on to the first post!

Genesis – The creation stories

Everyone knows this stuff right? Well, I thought I knew all about this, but I’ve discovered lots of stuff I never saw before in reading the accounts of creation this time through. Truthfully, in my church this stuff was only talked about when I was really little in Sunday school, and then it wasn’t from the Bible directly. We used to have Bible study booklets we read out of. Also, since this happened when I was a child, there wasn’t much questioning going on, after all at this age I still believed in Santa Claus too.

One thing I didn’t realize, is that the Bible contains two accounts of creation. The first one is the one that starts with “In the beginning”. Most people are tangentially familiar with this one. It’s the one that takes place over seven days. So I’ll talk a bit about each one, posting my impressions. At the end of this, I’ll posit some questions I have.

Account #1

Right off the bat I’ve found something peculiar about this one. And it’s not even the seven day thing, although that in itself is a can of worms. It’s this bit in the 6th verse:

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the water from the waters. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day

Okay. Dome? I’ve looked this up, and in some translations this is “expanse” or “gap” or “firmament”. This sounds an awful lot to me like flat earth stuff, with a dome representing the sky. Which is what you would expect from a mythology this old. The thing that really threw me for a loop was this idea of waters ABOVE the dome. What the heck are they talking about? My best guess is this. I try to imagine what it would be like to not know about the earth being round, or that the sky isn’t a dome. Well, it LOOKS like a dome. And it’s blue during the day. Perhaps they thought the reason the sky was blue, was because there was water “up there”. If you stand looking at a lake or ocean, the water appears blue, so perhaps this is where the idea comes from. Let’s continue, there’s another clue I found.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night.

Wait, didn’t I mention? God creates day and night on the first day, but waits until the fourth day to create the Sun and Moon. Now some people might say “First contradiction!”. But I rather don’t. What I see is this… Isn’t it possible that these early people saw the day and the night being separate from the Sun and Moon? After all, if you’ve ever watched a sunrise you’ll know that it starts getting light WAY before you ever see the sun. And the Moon isn’t related to day and night at all, as it is up sometime in the daytime. This ties in with this “water above” business. The blue of the sky has NOTHING to do with the Sun in these people’s minds, it’s blue because in the daytime, the sky is blue, because of the water above it. At least that how it seems to me.

This account continues with more of the same strangeness, talking about creating all the beasts, etc. Then he creates Adam.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them

So, there are some footnotes here.

The translators here have taken liberties. It says in Hebrew, that “humankind” is “adam” and “them” is “him”. But of course, this wouldn’t make much sense if it said it created him and then said he “male and female he created them”. It just doesn’t read well. But, if this is truly the translation of the Hebrew, why is the text being changed?

Since this post is a bit long, I’ll stop here and post my thoughts on Account #2 later.

I’ll skip right to questions I have. Christians and Atheists are welcome to chime in with comments and answers.

Questions

1. Do a majority of Christians believe in the seven days thing? If so, how do you explain that? If you are a Christian who believes in Evolution, how do you reconcile that with the seven days thing?

2. Does this account indeed show that these people believed in a flat earth? And if this is written from that point of view, what does that say about it being the “Word of God”?

3. Why does God have to “rest” on the seventh day? Can omnipotent beings get “tired”?

4. And finally, If you are a Christian and you take this story to be only figurative and not literal, then what is the point of this story? What is the point of it talking about details such as the water above and below? In essence, why is this even in your book?

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  1. Good post. I hope you can keep this up. Are you using the New Oxford Annotated Bible? When I looked at it on Amazon there was a “Third Edition” and an “Augmented Third Edition” but it wasn’t clear how they were different.

    My atheist answers to your questions:

    1. Supposedly a majority or something close to 50% of Americans believe in a young Earth, and I guess that means a literal 7 day creation. They believe this because the creator of the Universe said so! 😉 For people who take the theistic evolution (old Earth creationism) path I guess they assume the 7 days are a metaphor.

    2. It seems obvious to me that the original authors thought the Earth was flat. Maybe it really was, and God balled it up later to confuse us and test our faith!

    3. My guess is the God that the Genesis writers believed in was not omnipotent. I don’t think ancient people even had a concept of “omnipotence”. Myths get more powerful over time. Look at Superman. In the beginning, he was just a strong dude who could jump really far.

    4. My atheist answer is that there is no point. It’s just another “holy” book that is an amalgamtion of other creation myths and was bundled in with the Judeo-Christian canon.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. My Bible is a New Revised Standard Version published by Hendrickson Bibles in conjunction with Oxford University Press. It has small footnotes about the translation at the bottom of the page.

  3. I’m an atheist, but I do occasionally attend a Baptist church and have some feel for what actual believers believe. As you are aware, Christians (as we all do) have a well developed ability to pick and choose what to pay attention to. They pay attention to those passages in the bible that are convenient and simply ignore (or just don’t think about) those passages that are problematic. The pastor of my church has even said that the bible really starts with “Exodus”… thus officially glossing over Genesis altogether. As Baptists go, he is more liberal than most.

    An interesting Christian fundamentalist website supporting a literal creationist viewpoint in cartoon form can be found here. Its almost hard to belive that there are people out there that actually belive this stuff…but there are….

  4. Hi, I generally do not like to label myself as “Christian,” as the term has become synonymous with the religion rather than the truth of Christianity. As I have been studying the Bible for only about 4 years myself, I don’t know if I can be of any help. However, I would like to participate in your study If I may.

    Right off the bat, I am noticing that you are looking at the scripture as words written by people on their own will. When reading the Bible, I believe it is important to try and understand the concept (the message) as God had intended rather than trying to dissect it word-for-word with a secular worldview. I am, however, glad to see that you are looking at various translations. It may not be a bad idea to look at the original Hebrew and Greek texts from time to time as well.

    That said, here are my thoughts on your questions:

    1. The seven days thing is not as important to me as the fact that there are seven days. Seven represents perfection. God rested on the seventh day, because He saw that His creation was perfect as he had intended. You keep referring to “Christians,” as if they all have the same view. May I share that in my experience, no two Christians are alike? I have yet to meet a Christian that believes everything EXACTLY as I believe. And I have noticed lately that what I believe is still always evolving.(alhtough the foundation is still firm.)

    2. Again, it doesn’t really matter what the people knew of the earth back then as much as what God is trying to tell us through their writing. Thus, the Word of God. As I believe that the writers were “inspired” by God to write the words, they themselves sometimes did not understand what they were writing. And I can neither confirm nor deny that errors can possibly be found if you were nitpicking at the words rather than looking at the concept (intended message).

    3. See answer to #1.

    4. I don’t think you’ve been talking to Christians who really believe what they believe is really real. If they did, they would not look at anything in the scripture as “figurative.” I once heard a Bible scholar describe the water above as a large band of water surrounding the earth, like a protective layer. This would provide somewhat of a “green house” effect for the living things on earth, giving them a perfect living environment. No rain, no damaging effects from the sun, and no change in climate or weather. Perhpas this is why people could live for hundreds of years(?)

    There is so much information packed into just the first chapter of Genesis. I have done my own study of Genesis 1:1-4 recently. I’ll post it as a comment following this one. It is my opinion that “light” is the most important concept in the first chapter.

    Let me know what you think about these thoughs…

  5. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what people were like back then and what they could have possibly known about the world, logic, philosophy, science, or life in general. These are words written 3,500 years ago…

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

    This means that God was there before the beginning of anything. God always existed. Always… Always… Always…

    The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep

    I imagined vast emptiness and darkness everywhere. Absolutely nothing but emptiness and darkness.

    and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

    Why did he say, “Spirit” of God, instead of saying just God? And what waters? Does the water signify Life that is about to be birthed? Perhaps… But did the people even know about the Holy Spirit when this was written? Jesus was not even born until almost 1,500 years later. The “hovering” sort of gives me a feeling of something that is waiting to take action.

    God said, “Let there be light”

    God “said.” He spoke. He communicated. To whom? Up to this point, there’s only emptiness and darkness, except maybe the hovering “Spirit.” And if He’s “speaking” to it, is it outside of Him? It has to be, if He’s speaking to it. So it’s Him but not Him. Is it his reflection? Or is it another Him?

    and there was light.

    God spoke, and it appeared, just like that. Instant illumination… If I close my eyes and actually think about this concept, it is beyond description.

    God saw that the light was good,

    Why would God say that the light was “good?” What does He mean by “good?” At this point, nothing was created except for light. There is no life yet to speak of. There’s nothing that would distinguish good from bad. There was no right and wrong. There was no such thing as morality yet. So what is good? If I go with the thought that God is good, then “good” is God. Good is who God is. It is the nature of God. When He “speaks” the light into existence, light is what he “means” to speak. He wants to express his nature. I have to conclude that illumination is His purpose before he even begins the process of creation.

    and he separated the light from the darkness

    Darkness cannot be seen without the light. Only when nothing becomes something can we realize the nothingness and the emptiness that had been there. Before good and bad, before right and wrong, illumination always reveals darkness. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. When there is revelation of light, darkness is no more.

    God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

    Time was set in motion.

  6. I’m sorry to be so wordy, but I just noticed that I forgot to comment on the following:

    “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them”

    I found it very interesting what you said about the Hebrew text. I never knew that before. Why would “Adam” and “him” be translated into “them?” Could it indicate duality?

    And when it says “male and female he created them,” what I get out of that, in view of what comes up in the next chapter, is that male and female are both in Adam. As Eve came out of Adam, that would mean we are all in Adam. All of mankind, male and female, are descendants of Adam.

    Oh! if you think along that line, then it would make sense:

    “Humankind” is Adam;
    “them” is him;
    “male and female” are in him;
    All of mankind is in Adam.

    What do you think?

  7. I have enjoyed reading “Just thinking’s” comments. Those comments show the tendency that religious people have to interpret and force fit observables and data into pre-existing conclusions and doctrine. This is in contrast to the scientific method where (in theory) observables and data are analyzed first, then conclusions arrived upon. And the conclusions can change with new data….

    Perhaps i will make a comic about this…

  8. jeff,

    I’ve thought about what you said and also saw your cartoon that you posted, and these are my thoughts:

    You seem to have a desire to generalize and stereotype all Christians as “religious people” and all non-believers as the more rational and logical group. You put everyone into these boxes that you have created and label them the way you see fit. The way I see it, atheism is also a religion; and those who follow it avidly promote close-mindedness. There is a whole range of differnt colors in the spectrum of all kinds of people. Those you call “religious” fit into this range in various places. Those you call “logical” also fit somewhere in this range.

    Sometimes, they overlap; and other than the labels that you insist on calling them, there are no noticeable differences. In some instances, you can even find the “logical” people on the religious end of the spectrum, and the “religious” people on the logical end of the spectrum.

    You have to be willing to think outside of your box in order to see the real truth. But if you’re comfortable in that box, by all means, stay there. I only ask that you don’t try to force others into your boxes.

  9. “Just thinking”, you are certainly right that it is impossible (and inappropriate) to force people to reside in only one of two boxes. There are an infinite number of positions in the “coordinate space” for the range of “theist to atheist” and “gnostic to agnostic”. A number of websites explain this. See wiki.ironchariots.org as an example. Although we may both agree to disagree about certain religious topics, I hope we can both learn from each other.

  10. Here’s a site I started documenting the more unquoted verses in the Bible. Let me know if you find any I missed. I do need to get back to the project soon.

    What if you read the Bible literally?

    Paul

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