Genesis and Creation Stories

Summary: God creates the Earth and all the stuff on it, then kicks people out of the Garden of Eden.  He floods the Earth due to humanity’s sinful ways, saving only Noah and his family, then we start over.  He makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants, starting with Abraham (who is several generations removed from Noah), then continuing on through his son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s son Joseph.  God promises them land in exchange for their obedience and worship.  Joseph ends up as governor of Egypt, where the whole family eventually emigrates.

It’s tough to separate stories like the ones in Genesis – Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Noah’s Ark, Abraham & Isaac, and so on – from what I already know about them.  They’re so ingrained in our culture that they can be incredibly difficult to treat them as nothing more than the stories that anyone else would tell, like the Greeks with Zeus or American Indians with the Great Spirit creating the earth.  But it’s not like there’s any practical difference between them, at least to me.  I see them both as stories that were created by men to explain a world that they didn’t understand (which isn’t to put them down or anything – it’s not like I understand the universe all that well either).

But I clearly see them differently than other myths.  The Cherokee had this explanation for diseases: anytime a person killed an animal for fun or sport, a new disease was created.  Now I hear that, and I think “Well, that’s clearly false.”  But what separates that from Genesis, which states that the earth was created in six days with all the plants and animals already on it, which runs contrary to pretty much every conclusion that science has drawn about the origin of our planet?  What makes one clearly false statement any more valid or worthy of respect than the other?  The only explanation I have is that I’m not used to one of them, so it becomes weird to me in a sort of “How could anyone think that?” way.

But the other problem with being so familiar with the stories is that it’s a little harder to tell if they suck.  Like a lot of people, I’m happy to see things that I’m familiar with (though not enough to see Disaster Movie).  So it’s easy to read the story of Noah and think that it’s neat that I’m reading this thing that I’ve heard so much about.  But the problem is that it’s pretty pointless.  I mean, even aside from the plausibility of one guy building a huge boat and putting two of every animal on it (and fourteen of the ritually clean animals and birds), it doesn’t teach any lesson.

One of the things that I’ve heard about the Bible is that it’s important because it teaches moral lessons.  But there’s no lesson here.  Yeah, Noah is chosen to live because he lives a good and virtuous life, but I don’t know what makes him any better than anyone else.  That’s the most crucial thing in this story – to know what Noah did to make him good enough to survive when nobody else was allowed to, and it’s completely glossed over.  And then, at the end, God promises to never flood the earth again in response to people’s sins.  So, morally speaking, the lesson is not to be too sinful in some unspecified way because one time God flooded the earth, even though he promised to never do it again.  The other interpretation is that the moral is to do what God says solely because God says it, but I find that to be pretty useless when God doesn’t talk directly to me.

“Okay, it’s not much of a lesson,” you might be saying.  “But does that make it a bad story?”  Well, yeah.  At the end there is something about how “there will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.”  But I have no idea why God decides this now.  I have no idea what this has to do with the earth having been flooded, or what caused God to chill out so much that he would never flood the earth again.  As a story, it’s lazy and sloppily plotted, with underdeveloped characters and no real resolution.

Also, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in saying it’s not very good history.

But even the conclusion at the end that I quoted above, the one about day and night and so on, even that brings me to a problem with all creation stories: the things they explain are completely arbitrary.  Why explain the seasons without explaining how the earth gets colder in winter?  Why attach a symbolic meaning to the rainbow while ignoring the sunset?  Why not discuss how big the world is or how many people are in it or why other people seem to have similar stories about different gods?  When you’re just scratching the surface of the complexity of the world like these stories do, shouldn’t you get the whole surface instead of a few spots on it?

Let me just be clear about this: these aren’t problems specific to Genesis or Judaism or Christianity.  These are problems with all creation stories anywhere that are meant to be taken as literal truth or that attempt to explain the world.  I find myself doubting that there is anything inherently different in this set than any stories from across the world.  They’re stories.  They’re myths.  They’re not real.  They’re expressions of people who were doing their best to understand the world when they didn’t have the tools to do so.

But any problem that I have isn’t with them.  It’s with people who refuse to give them up.  Just because the Periodic Table has more elements than Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire doesn’t mean that people way back when were stupid for believing in them as the core elements of everything.  But anyone who still believes that now would not be taken seriously.  This is how science works: someone comes up with a hypothesis, other people try to prove that it’s wrong.  Knowledge moves on.  Anyone who thinks anything is welcome to try to prove it.  But it can be proven wrong.  Just because someone wrote a series of beliefs in a book somewhere doesn’t make them true. Genesis is pretty clearly not the literal truth.

And I’m sorry, but I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks it is.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] been finding it funny, insightful and extremely well written. The first post, about Genesis, is here in case you’re interested. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Trent & […]

  2. Hey dude….interesting reading. I would suggest a book exploring a very different take on Genesis…..the Lost World of Genesis One by John H Walton. It certainly caused me to think critically about some previously preconceived notions

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