Posted June 15, 1999
Six days of creation
The sun and the moon
The flood and the ark
The age of humankind
Finally the main question: Who wrote the Bible? (Was a watchmaker necessary?)
Imagine that you heard from a friend about a book that your friend has acclaimed as a masterpiece of literature. Its title is, say, "Life and Work of John Reynolds." You order that book from the Amazon online bookstore. In a few days your order arrives. Foretasting the enjoyment you expect from this book, you make yourself comfortable under a soft lamp, your back supported by your favored cushion. You hold the book for a while in both hands, postponing the moment of pleasure, sniffing the smell of the leather cover, sensing with your fingers the silkiness of the glossy paper of pages. Finally, you open the first page. Chapter 1. You read that the hero, John Reynolds, was the first child born to his parents. He grew up in a quiet rural ambience, surrounded by nice dogs, beautiful horses, and squirrels climbing the old trees around the house. When John was five years old, his brother Jim was born. While John took after his mother and had bright blue eyes, his younger brother inherited the raven-black hair and brown eyes of their father. You read the first few pages where John's and his younger brother Jim's childhood is described.
Then you start reading Chapter 2, and at its very beginning you read the following lines: "When John was three years old, his brother Jim, who was four years older than John, broke his leg. As John watched Jim suffer, John's dark-brown eyes filled with tears." You read further that the windows of their house faced a sandy wasteland where not a single tree nor a blade of grass pleased the eyes. Puzzled, you go back to chapter one and, indeed, read again that Jim was five years younger than John and that John had blue eyes. The house was surrounded by trees where squirrels played with acorns...". You return to chapter 2 and read that Jim was four years older than John who had brown eyes. Is something wrong with the masterpiece in question? Its second chapter contradicts the first one in every detail of the story. Flabbergasted and disappointed, you call your friend and tell him about your disenchantment with a book whose author seemed to forget what he told in chapter 1 while writing chapter 2.
"Ah," your friend says. "You have to understand the hidden gist of the story. There is no contradictions whatsoever in that great book." Your friend then proceeds to offer an explanation as to how one should interpret the seeming inconsistency in his beloved book. For example, he may suggest that Jim is not really John's brother but rather just an idea of a brother formed in John's imagination in order to fulfill some subconscious spiritual need of John. Or, he may say that John actually had two brothers, one younger and the other older than John, and in John's mind they somehow merged into one person. One more explanation can be that one can be either older or younger than one's brother, depending on the viewpoint, or that one can be younger physically but older spiritually, etc.
One can imagine several attitudes to the described contradictions. Some people, such as those who are inclined to believe in astrology, the abductions of humans by extraterrestrials, leprechauns and the like, may happily digest one of the above explanations without much trouble, and accept, for example, that somehow one can be both younger and older than one's brother. Some other people may simply dismiss the book as nonsense, not deserving any serious discussion. Still other people may try to look for some indication in the book itself as to the possible meaning of its contradictory stories.
However, the last group is out for a disappointment. There is nothing in the book itself which would provide even a hint at explaining the book's inconsistencies. Some of those disappointed searchers may then join the book's detractors, while some others, responding to an inner need to believe, would join the book's admirers, assuming that there is a reasonable explanation of the strange story about two brothers, but that this explanation has not yet been unearthed, so the book must be accepted either by virtue of its poetic power or simply relying on the opinion of others, who presumably succeeded in penetrating the hidden gist of this masterpiece.
Whatever the attitude to the book in question, there seems to be a point on which most of the readers would probably agree. Hardly anybody would insist that the book in question is a realistic story to be understood literally, in plain everyday terms. On the other hand, since the book itself contains no explanation of its contradictions, the only attitude which can be viewed as a rational is one which avoids interpretations not based on direct factual evidence.
We have so far talked about an imaginary book. Let us now switch to a real book. The book in question is immensely popular. It has been published uncounted times over the course of many centuries. There is one feature of that book which is widely acknowledged by almost everybody. It is the book's great poetic power. It is, beyond doubt, an outstanding piece of literature, which made an indelible impression on the entire culture of European nations. Originally, it was written in Hebrew, and subsequently translated into many other languages. Of course, the readers have already successfully guessed what book we are talking about.
We will be referring to the King James English version of the Bible.
Let us now discuss one of the stories told in this book.
In chapter 1 we read the following story: <1.11. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, and herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth; and it was so. 1.12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind, and God saw that it was good. 1.13. And the evening and the morning were the third day.>
A few lines down we read: <1.24. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so. 1.25. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind. And God saw that it was good. 1.26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 1.27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them"...> A few lines later it continues: <1.31... And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.>
Now switch to a subsequent portion of the same book, separated from the quoted lines by only a few verses. I am again quoting from the same King James version. <2.7. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 2.8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 2.9. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil"...>. Skip again a few lines. <2.18. And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 2.19. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.> Skip a few lines once more and there is, in verses 2.20 through 2.25, the description of Eve's creation from Adam's rib.
Read the above lines again. This segment from 1.11 through 1.31 tells us unequivocally two things: 1) Grass, herbs, and trees were created on the third day while man (adam) was created on the sixth day. Hence, grass, trees and herbs were created before adam. 2) On the sixth day, God first created "beasts of the earth," and "cattle," and "creeping thing" and only after that God created man, male and female at the same time. However, the segment from 2.7 through 2.25 tells us a rather different story. According to that segment, first God created Adam. Then, God planted a garden. After that, to provide a "help meet" for Adam, God created animals. Finally, after all of that, God made Eve.
The Hebrew editions of the Bible usually include detailed commentaries for almost every verse. Strangely, there is a striking paucity of comments with regards to the obvious contradiction between the stories about the order of the creation of plants, animals, and man told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, the two mutually exclusive stories being separated by less than one page of the text.
It is hard to see any difference between the contradictions in our fictitious story about a man who was both younger and older then his brother and the contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 in their narrative about the order of the creation of plants, animals, and man.
Since the stories told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 seem to be consistent within each chapter viewed separately, but contradictory if one compares these two chapters to each other, it could be surmised that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 were authored by two different writers, each telling his version of the tale. (The boundary between the parts written by the two writers does not necessarily coincide with the boundary between Genesis 1 and 2).
Of course, such an explanation is contrary to the religious tradition attributing the Torah to the Divine Creator as the real author of its text, who gave it to Moses on Mount Sinai. If, though, we are looking for a logical interpretation of the text, which is not based on blind faith or tradition, the above surmise has some confirmation in the vocabulary differences between the two chapters in question. In Genesis 1, the Creator is referred to as Elohim, translated in the King James version as God. In Genesis 2, except for a few initial verses, the reference is to YHWH Elohim, translated in the King James version as The Lord God. (Actually that translation of word YHWH is rather arbitrary, but we are not discussing here the quality of the King James' translation). In Genesis 1, the human being created by God is referred to as adam which is translated in the King James version as man, like a reference to a species, while in Genesis 2, except for a few initial verses, the reference is to haadam (the man), which is interpreted in the translation as the personal name of a particular individual, Adam. In Genesis 1, the Hebrew verb bara is used, translated in the King James version as created, applied to man, animals and plants. In Genesis 2 the verb yatzar is used instead translated in the King James version as formed. Although both Hebrew verbs are synonyms, there is a clear distinction between their meanings.
This observation seems to point to two different writers of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 (possibly except for a few initial verses of Genesis 2).
Whatever explanation can be offered for the above variations in names, verbs, and references, is beyond our discussion. We can assert though that there is a glaring contradiction between the stories told in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 about the order of creation, and I have not yet seen a convincing interpretation which would reconcile the two versions.
The described inconsistency is only one example of the numerous internal contradictions obvious to a reader of the Bible. Besides such internal inconsistencies, the Bible obviously tells many stories blatantly incompatible with scientific data. In this paper we will look at some of those inconsistencies and contradictions and discuss some of the explanations offered by believers in the Bible's inerrancy, aimed at allegedly rational interpretations of the Bible's statements which are contrary to scientific knowledge. Since there are in the Bible so many inconsistencies and statements contrary to science, we will not try to cover all of those points. We will discuss only some examples illustrating the deficiencies of the Biblical accounts.
In this section we will discuss the story about the creation of the universe in six days, as told in the Book of Genesis, from the viewpoint of its contradiction to modern scientific view. Our main thrust will be to look at those alleged explanations of the Biblical story of creation which purport to reconcile it with the conclusions of science.
If we ignore those inner inconsistencies observed in the Book of Genesis we discussed in the Introduction, the Book of Genesis tells us that the universe was created in six days. The Hebrew word for "day" is yom. This word is used repeatedly in the Book of Genesis, often in conjunction with the words erev and boker, translated as "evening" and "morning." For example, the expression in Genesis 1.13 is Vihie erev vihie boker yom shlishi, which the King James version translates as "And the evening and the morning were the third day."
Modern science claims that the universe has existed for about fifteen billion years. This scientific claim is the result of a long, painstakingly thorough process of accumulating evidence, logically interpreting it, subjecting it to unmerciful verification and finally accepting it as a plausible postulate. In science, nothing is viewed as the ultimate truth, but only as a reasonable approximation of reality. Every scientific statement is open for discussion and rebuttals. However, as the history of science has overwhelmingly shown, every good scientific theory contains some truth in it, even if this truth may be only partial or limited. Of course, such a statement cannot be applied to the Bible. The statements of the Bible are offered without any logical or other independent proof and are expected to be taken uncritically as a matter of faith.
There are some defenders of the Bible's inerrancy who simply dismiss the scientific data. These so-called "young universe creationists" (or "young earth creationists") insist that the scientific data are just an illusion. For example, in their view, the immense size of the universe, as estimated by astronomical/astrophysical studies, is an illusion created by God, while the actual size of the universe is much smaller. Likewise, all scientific data indicating the age of the universe being billions of years, are, in their opinion, also the result of illusion. In the view of these extreme creationists, every word of the Bible must be accepted in its literal meaning. If the Bible says that the universe was created in six days, then, insist the young universe creationists, it means exactly that, literally six conventional days.
Of course, the young universe creationists offer no proof whatsoever for their bizarre denial of well-established scientific data. Therefore, their views are not widely accepted even by their fellow believers in the Bible's inerrancy. The undeniable achievements of modern science, and the wonders of modern technology which are based largely on the progress of science make it hard to defend the position of those extreme creationists. Some of the extreme creationists do not suggest any arguments in favor of their beliefs which could be subjected to critical discussion, adhering instead to blind faith. Although the views of these young earth creationists display extreme obscurantism, they are logically unassailable. Faith cannot be disputed, hence the views of this group of creationists are beyond discussion in rational terms.
Some other young earth creationists suggest certain arguments in favor of their belief in the Bible's inerrancy, under the strange name of "creationist science." Such young earth creationists seem to be a vocal minority among the believers in the Bible's inerrancy. Many other believers in the Bible's inerrancy admit that modern science provides very strong proofs of its conclusions, proofs which cannot be simply dismissed. Therefore adherents of that view vigorously deny the views of those who interpret the word of the Bible literally. They strive to find ways to reconcile the Biblical statements with modern scientific data. In particular, this relates to the Biblical story about the six days of creation.
When young earth creationists try to suggest arguments that allegedly refute scientific data in rational terms, they simply display their ignorance of science and have been easily shown to be blatantly in error by their fellow believers in the Bible's inerrancy, those who choose to attempt reconciliation between scientific data and the word of the Bible. If we dismiss the puerile quasi-scientific exercises by the young earth creationists, their arguments are reduced to blind faith in the word of the Bible. Unlike in science, where every statement is based on a very strict procedure for eliminating errors and distilling the truth from the chaos of experimental data, and where every statement is subjected to a process of self-rebuttals from various viewpoints, the word of the Bible is not supported by any proofs but rather by tradition only. However, there are many other religions which are at odds with the Bible, each claiming its monopoly on the ultimate truth, and each based on tradition, some of them as old or older than that of the Bible. What are the reasons the Biblical story must be preferred to those told by other religions?
Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Zoroastrians, you name them, all claim that their sacred books reveal the truth, none of them offering any proofs which could be verified similarly to the proofs of scientific claims. There is no reason to choose any of those religious claims over the rest of them, except for blind faith.
A more common approach for the believers in the Bible's inerrancy is to offer interpretations of the Biblical text which allegedly reconcile it with science.
The often-heard explanation of the story about the six days of creation is that the word "yom" in the Hebrew original of the Book of Genesis must be interpreted in a metaphorical manner rather than literally as "day." According to such interpretations, each of the six days of creation actually denotes an "epoch" or some other long period of time, lasting, say, for billions of years, thus matching the age of the universe according to scientific data.
Of course, metaphorical use of the word "day" is not uncommon, especially in a poetic form. For example, in the expression "In the day of Nero, Christians suffered persecutions," the word day is obviously not used in its literal sense, and the expression is nevertheless commonly understandable. However, from the text of the Book of Genesis it is clear that there is not a shred of evidence that the word "yom" was not meant literally.
Firstly, the word "yom" is encountered many times elsewhere in the Bible, in its literal sense. There is no indication whatsoever that it is different in the creation story. It is often used in Genesis together with words "erev" and "boker" meaning "evening" and "morning" with no indication whatsoever that these two words may mean anything beyond their literal meaning. Moreover, in the very verses telling about the six days of creation the word yom is also used in a different context, where it can only mean a day in a conventional rather than in a metaphorical sense. Let us quote from Genesis: "1.4. And God saw the light, that it was good. And God divided the light from the darkness. 1.5: And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." It is obvious that the word yom in these verses means day in its literal sense. It is really hard to believe that the same word could be used within the span of three lines, once in a literal and once in a metaphorical sense.
Those believers in the Bible's inerrancy who offer a metaphorical interpretation of the word "yom" have never substantiated their suggestion by a reference to a statement in the Bible which would indeed justify their interpretation. The only reason for the interpretation in question seems to be the desire to reconcile the Biblical account with the conclusions of contemporary science. Therefore the interpretation in question is obviously arbitrary, rather than based on any factual evidence or on a logical consideration. If science asserted that the universe's age were not about fifteen billion but rather fifteen hundred years, the adherents of the Bible's inerrancy could as easily insist that the word "yom" actually meant a period of a few hundred years, that assertion no less (and no more) substantiated than ascribing to that word a billion years long "epoch."
One of the most preposterous reasons for the interpretation of the word "yom" as "epoch" rather than as "day," is the assertion that Hebrew language has no word for "epoch," or even that that language has in general no words denoting various periods of time besides the word "yom." That explanation betrays the ignorance of its authors about Hebrew. The Hebrew language has a large number of words to denote any period of time, from rega (moment) to tkufa, sfira, and minyan, all three being synonyms for "epoch" with subtle variations in exact meaning. Every school kid whose native tongue is Hebrew, as well as any serious student of Hebrew regardless of his native language knows all these words. According to religious tradition, the real author of the Pentateuch is God himself. Does the assertion of these believers mean that God does not know many common Hebrew words?
One more explanation offered by the believers is by invoking the results of the theory of relativity. Some of these explanations use the concepts of the special theory of relativity (STR) and some others, of the general theory of relativity (GTR).
The STR tells us that the flow of time is different in such two frames of reference which move relative to each other with a certain constant velocity. If two events occur at the same location within one of these two systems, then, because of the relative motion of the other system, in that other system these events occur at different locations. One of the results of that difference is that the time interval between the events in question is shorter in the system where the events occur at the same location than it is in the other system. Having only grasped the simple fact that the time intervals can be different in two frames of reference, some defenders of the Biblical view assert that likewise the duration of a "day" can also be different in two frames of reference. Then, continue the defenders of the Biblical account, the story about the six days of creation can be reconciled with science by admitting that the Bible reported on the time interval of six days as measured in some God's frame of reference which is different from the human frame of reference. What in God's frame of reference lasted just six days, in our frame of reference lasted billions of years.
Of course, this alleged explanation is not based on any evidence and is a completely arbitrary concoction. Neither the Bible nor the STR contain even a hint of anything which might connect them. The scientific terms "frame of reference" and "system" imply a physical body. In order to apply the concepts of the STR to the six days of creation, we have to assume first that God is a physical body, and, second, that, in the process of creation he moved with an enormous velocity relative to the universe he was creating. Of course this image of God possessing a physical body which is rushing past the rest of the universe is not quite in agreement with the concept of the Biblical God.
Another attempt at reconciliation between the Bible and science uses the concepts of the GTR. The latter tells us that the flow of time is affected by gravitation. The larger the gravitational force at a location, the slower is the flow of time at that location. Using that concept, the following alleged explanation of the six days of creation has been suggested. It makes use also of the theory of the hot big bang. According to that scientific theory, at some point in time, roughly some fifteen billion years ago, the universe emerged via an enormous explosion of energy whose source is not discussed in that theory, giving rise to the idea of its appearance out of nothing. At the moment of the big bang, there appeared a "hot ball," an extremely dense cloud of immense energy. There was no mass yet and therefore there was no gravitation. The energy of that hot ball started partially converting into mass in accordance with Einstein's equation E=mc2 . As the mass emerged, ever-increasing gravitation accompanied its growth. As the gravitation increased, the time flow slowed down. What lasted one day at the low level of gravitation, lasted billions of years on our present scale of time, corresponding to today's level of gravitation.
This alleged explanation is wrong. Let us accept the described scheme of gradually increasing gravitation accompanied by the ever-slowing flow of time. If it happened, it must have affected all clocks in the universe equally. Therefore this effect could not be observed by any means imaginable. The idea behind the described explanation is actually that of absolute time. If there existed a clock not affected by the increase of gravitation, it could have been used as a reference clock (showing absolute time) to which all other clocks would be compared thus revealing the slowing time flow. Such a clock is not known. Absolute time is something whose existence the GTR denies. Therefore the entire explanation of the six days of creation based on the GTR is preposterously absurd.
The conclusion is that the Biblical story about the six days of creation is hopelessly at odds with the claims of science. The only rational choice between the two irreconcilable stories favors the scientific side which, although not necessarily completely and absolutely true, is supported by abundant evidence. The Biblical story is not supported by anything except for blind faith, with no evident advantages over any other equally unsubstantiated religious beliefs.
Let us start this section with one more quotation from the Book of Genesis. "1.4. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 1.5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night."
Unless one is motivated by blind faith, the above quotation cannot be understood other than as the extremely naive view of an ignoramus. It is well known that day and night occur at different times in different locations. Day and night are actually moving constantly over the surface of our planet, the boundary between them being diffuse and moving with a speed determined by the earth's rotation about its axis. The quoted verses give rise to the suspicion that their author believed the earth to be flat.
It is also known that darkness itself is not an exclusive feature of night, as it occurs in every such place where the access of light from light sources is obstructed. Likewise, light is not an exclusive feature of day. It is present at any place accessible to any light sources, such as candles, bonfires, electric bulb, you name it.
Here is one more quotation. <1.6. And God said, Let there be firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 1.7 And God made the firmament, and divided waters which were under the firmament from waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.>
In the Hebrew original the word translated as firmament was rakia. The exact meaning of that word is rather ambiguous, although it is distinct from the word shamaim usually translated as heaven. Whatever interpretation for rakia is chosen, the quoted verses make no sense whatsoever. Some defenders of the Bible's inerrancy interpret the "waters which were above the firmament" as that water (mostly as ice) whose existence has been detected by modern science on some celestial bodies, such as some satellites of Jovian planets, on some asteroids, and supposedly on Mars. Such an interpretation may seem satisfactory for those believers who grasp at even the most uncertain indication that the word of the Bible can somehow be reconciled with scientific data. However, from the standpoint of a rational analysis of the text, the quoted verses represent the view of somebody who had very little knowledge of the solar system, planets, stars and the upper atmosphere. There is no rakia of any shape or composition which separates waters which are under it from waters above it. It seems that in view of the authors of the quoted verses, rakia was something like a layer of a certain material which was placed above the earth and then named heaven. Of course, we know that there is no such layer and the sky is just a code word denoting that seemingly-blue (sometimes) cupola above our heads which actually is a mantle of gases with the gradually decreasing density as height increases.
Let us quote once more. <1.14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.... 1.16. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.>
Unless blinded by faith, one cannot fail to notice the inconsistency between 1.4-1.5 and 1.14 and 1.16. The first two quoted verses tell us that light was created before the sun and the moon, hence obviously the existence of light did not require the existence of sun or moon. In the latter two verses, though, we read that to make light, the sun and the moon were needed. Furthermore, if God decided to divide light from darkness, and made the night dark, why was it then necessary to create the "lesser light" (the moon) which would provide light when, according to 1.4-1.5, it had to be dark?
There are many other questions a curious person might ask about the quoted passages from Genesis. For example, if the reason for the moon's creation was to provide light in nighttime for the inhabitants of the earth, why had God also created multiple moons of the uninhabited planets like Jupiter, Saturn, and others? Of course, the existence of those moons was unknown at the time when the Book of Genesis was written. If the writers of the Bible had known about those moons, would they still insist that the Moon was created "to rule the night" on the earth? Moreover, the alleged "rule" of the night by the moon seems rather poorly designed. On some nights the full moon is bright, but on others it decreases to a narrow sickle barely noticeable in the sky. On some nights it appears early in the evening, when it is not yet needed but on some others it shows up only toward dawn, leaving most of the night which it supposedly "rules" in complete darkness. Its rule is not strong enough to overcome the screening effect of clouds.
As for the sun which, according to the quoted verses, was created "to rule the day," its rule also leaves much to be desired. It makes life unbearable in some areas, like the Gobi desert, where immense heat really "rules the day." In some other areas it barely shows up for a few hours, or not at all for six months in a row. If the purpose of the sun was to provide light in the daytime, why was its light designed to shine so unevenly?
Of course, besides these inconsistencies, the above quoted verses hopelessly contradict scientific data. According to scientific data, stars existed long before the Earth came into existence, while verse 1.16 asserts that stars were created after the Earth.
Contrary to the quoted verses, we know that the moon is not a source of light but only reflects the light of the sun, hence listing the sun and the moon in the same category of "greater and lesser lights" betrays ignorance of the author of the quoted verses.
One of the explanations suggested by the Bible's defenders for characterizing the moon as a "lesser light" on a par with the sun is as follows. The sun is much larger than the moon but is also much farther from the earth than the moon. One of the results of that situation is, say the proponents of that explanation, that the apparent diameters of the sun and the moon are exactly equal. This statement is, though, factually imprecise. The average angular diameter of the moon (if it were seen from the center of the earth) is about 31'5", while for the sun it is about 31'59'. However, the sizes in question vary as the earth and the moon move in their orbits, the size of the sun's diameter by some 1.7% and that of the moon by some 7%. The largest apparent angular size of the moon is about 33'16" which is larger than even the largest one for the sun (which is about 32'35"). Moreover, the largest apparent sizes of both bodies do not occur simultaneously, so the difference between apparent diameters of the two celestial bodies in question varies between two extreme situations, in one of them the sun appearing larger by some 10% and in the other the sun appearing smaller by some 8%. Furthermore, the distance from the moon to the earth is slowly increasing, hence the apparent diameter of the moon is gradually decreasing. (In some distant future it will become impossible to ever observe a full solar eclipse.) But even if the statements by the Bible's defenders were exactly true, it is hard to understand how such near-coincidence might make the moon a source of light rather than just an almost spherical reflector of sunlight.
Scientific data are the results of a thorough and self-controlling process of weighing evidence, open for verification and, if necessary, for rebuttals. The story told in Genesis is not based on any factual evidence and requires to be accepted via blind faith. Therefore it is not any more plausible than all different stories told in the multitude of other religions.
I was told a story about a schoolboy in the USA who, when asked why dinosaurs perished, answered without hesitation, "There was no space for them in Noah's ark."
On the one hand, the boy in question obviously possessed some common sense since he realized that the ark, as described in the Bible, could not accommodate all living creatures, despite the Bible's assertion to the contrary. On the other hand, his common sense was not powerful enough to overcome indoctrination and to realize that the entire story about the Flood and the ark is one of the most utterly implausible tales known, with all the features of a fantastic invention.
Although the length of the unit of measurements given in the Genesis 6.15 and named cubit in the King James version is not precisely known, its approximate value, within a certain range, can be established rather reliably. In the original Hebrew text that unit of length is called an ama. Let us see how a Hebrew dictionary explains this word. In the definitive Hamilon Haivri Hamerukaz by Even-Shoshan we read: "Ama. The measure of length roughly equal the distance between the elbow and the root of the palm of an adult man." In other words, according to the quoted dictionary, the cubit of the King James version is reasonably close to one foot in the English and American system of measurements. On the other hand, some rabbinical sources maintain that an ama was closer to two feet. Hence, the value of a cubit can be reasonably estimated as being between one and two feet. To make our estimations brief, we will assume that one cubit equals 1.5 foot.
We read in Genesis 6.15: "The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits." Hence, according to the Biblical story, the ark was about four hundred fifty feet (about 150 meters) long, seventy-five feet (about 25 meters) wide and forty-five feet (about 15 meters) high.
Several questions seem to be in order.
If the biblical story is understood literally, the ark had to be just a rectangular box. Were this the case, the ark would be subjected to extremely intense pitching and rolling, as well as steep swinging, rotating, and jolts, making the stay of people and animals in it for any prolonged period of time practically impossible. Therefore let us assume that the Bible tells the story in general terms only and that it implies (even though this is not really indicated anywhere in the Bible) that God actually provided more detailed instruction to Noah as to how to make an ark shaped more like a boat. Then the numbers given in the Bible must be viewed as the ark's average dimensions.
The arc, the Bible tells us, was built by Noah and his family, which included his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. This large structure was made of wood and had three floors. To build such a huge wooden contraption, Noah and his sons would have to solve a host of engineering problems.
It is easy to calculate that the volume of the ark would be about 55,000 cubic meters. Then the upper limit of its full-load displacement would be about 55,000 tons. To figure out its normal displacement, we have to account for the ark's peculiar dimensions. Its length is reported to be ten times larger than its height, and its width exceeded its height more than 1.5 times. In other words, the ark, as described in the Bible, was a very long but relatively low structure. This means that to sustain its buoyancy when loaded, it had to sit very low in the water, so its upper deck would be almost at the level of the water surface. Then waves would roll over the upper deck, thus making opening windows, as Noah allegedly did, impossible. Another consequence of the ark's peculiar shape would be that its displacement must be almost the full 55,000 tons!
For comparison, recall that at the end of the 15th century, i.e. thousands of years after Noah, when an immense experience in shipbuilding has already been accumulated, two of the three ships Columbus used in his pioneering expeditions, the Pinta and Nina, had the displacements one of 60 and the other of only 55 ton (the information about the size of his third ship has not survived, but its size was not much different from the other two). The famous (or infamous?) Titanic, which was considered a wonder of the shipbuilding art of the 20th century but sank on her maiden trip in April 1912, had the displacement of 46,329 tons. Can it be believed that only four men who had no experience in shipbuilding and no necessary tools and materials could have built a seaworthy ship the size of a huge modern ocean liner?
To build even not very large ships, special shipyards have to be built first, with a multitude of mechanisms and hundreds of workers toiling under the guidance of highly qualified and experienced engineers.
Despite the advances in the science of strength of materials and in naval architecture, even modern ships sometimes cannot withstand the forces of nature and break down under the blows of waves and wind. Noah and his sons must have encountered insurmountable difficulties in ensuring the proper strength of their construction.
In relation to the problem of the ark's strength, it seems relevant to recall a story from the history of shipbuilding. Roman engineers built large structures using the principle of similarity. According to that principle, if new structure B was to be built, x times larger than the largest existing structure A, then all dimensions of B should be increased proportionally over those of A, i.e. each dimension had to be increased the same x times. This principle, which is actually wrong, worked well because the Romans' creations were built with a very large reserve of strength. As the size of constructions increased, the reserve of strength decreased. However, the Romans did not realize this because even the smaller reserve of strength was sufficiently large to ensure the construction's strength. The principles of Roman engineering survived the demise of their state. In 16th century the large ships built in Venice already had a rather small reserve of strength, but the Venetian ship builders did not realize that. One day, the next step in increasing of the ship's size was to be undertaken. A ship that would be larger than anything built before, was acquiring its shape in a Venetian shipyard. Suddenly, the beautiful construction, considered the wonder of the shipbuilding craft, broke at its middle. This signified the collapse of the commonly used engineering principle of that time and led to the development of a better understanding of the strength of constructions, initiated by Galileo Galilei in his famous "Discorci e demostrazioni." The length of the ship-to-be which broke in the Venetian shipyard was much less than 450 feet.
There was no way Noah and his sons could have ensured the absence of leaks, stability against waves, proper distribution of masses and, in general, the task of building the huge ship was obviously beyond the capabilities of men who had no previous experience in building ships or boats and possessed neither the knowledge nor the experience nor the tools to complete their enormous job in the proper way. Of course, defenders of the Bible will shrug off these comments, since, as they believe, Noah and his sons worked under the guidance of and with miraculous help from God. There is no way to argue against beliefs. However, if one wants to view the matter in rational terms, rather than to rely on blind faith, the story about Noah building a four hundred fifty foot long sea-worthy wooden boat requires plenty of gullibility to be accepted.
Assume now that Noah and his sons did indeed managed to build that huge vessel and that it did not break down on the first wave, however implausible that is. Next the Bible tells us that Noah managed to gather representatives of all living species on the earth, place them all in the ark and provide enough victuals for the whole zoo for several months.
There are some 10 million species known of insects alone on our planet. There is an enormous number of species of birds, reptiles, and mammals. Can it be reasonably believed that Noah and his family could indeed gather all those millions of animals in their ark?
The total volume of the ark, as per Genesis 6.15, was roughly 55,000 cubic meters. Even if the number of animals in the ark were only one million, which is just a tiny fraction of all the species on the earth, then the space available for every animal would be, on the average, only 0.055 of a cubic meter. For comparison, recall that the volume of a human body is, on the average, about 0.2 cubic meters, which is almost four times larger than the available volume per body in the ark. If we accept the Biblical story, we have to imagine all those animals tightly packed in the ark, layer upon layer, in a highly compressed state. Besides all those bodies, the ark had to accommodate tons of food. The utter implausibility of the story, if judged in rational terms, is obvious.
Ignoring the weight of the ark itself, it could be loaded, barely escaping sinking, with the weight of no more than about five hundred million Newton. (Newton is the standard unit of weight used in science. Roughly, one pound is close to 4.45 Newton; on the earth surface, a mass of one kilogram weighs about 9.8 Newton). The animals gathered in the ark would have weights varying in a wide range, from a fraction of a Newton for some insects, to hundreds of thousands of Newtons for such giants as elephants and hippopotami. Just for a rough estimate, accept the average weight of an animal to be close to that of, say, a horse, which is about ten thousand Newton. Five hundred million divided by about 10,000 is close to 50,000. This is a very rough estimate of the maximum number of tightly packed animal bodies the ark could accommodate barely escaping sinking, even ignoring the weight of the ark itself and of the vast amount food to be stored in it. Accounting for food and the vessel's own weight, the maximum number of tightly packed animals bodies the ark would handle barely avoiding sinking must be estimated closer to 20,000. That is no more than about 10,000 species, if each species were represented by only one male and one female. Since animals and people needed some free volume around them to survive, a realistic estimate of the number of species the ark could support must be between several hundred and at the most a couple of thousand.
One of the explanations offered to resolve the problem was a suggestion that the number or species which existed in Noah's time was much smaller than it is now. To explain the vast number of species existing on the earth nowadays, the adherents of the explanation in question are even prepared to admit that after the flood, many new species appeared via a process of evolution. Of course, if the possibility of evolution is accepted, even only after the flood, what could be the reason to deny the possibility of evolution at any time, before or after the flood? The theory of evolution, while not answering all the questions about the origin of species, is at least based on factual evidence, which can be rationally discussed and tested in the course of further scientific exploration. The Biblical story is not based on any evidence which can be rationally tested. It requires for it acceptance extra-rational blind faith.
Let us see if the assumption that the number of species in Noah's time was much smaller than it is today, can reasonably explain the biblical story. As we have roughly estimated, the maximum number of species the ark could hold while barely avoiding sinking could not exceed a few thousand at most. (Some defenders of the biblical story, trying to explain how all the species could be accommodated in the ark, suggest that the actual number of species was only a few hundred). Even if we assume that there were several thousand species in the ark, then, in order to explain the existence of many millions of species nowadays, only a few thousand years after the flood, we will have to assume an incredibly fast evolution. Moreover, how to explain the existence of many endemic forms of life in some areas, such as on some islands in the Pacific? These islands have had no land bridges to the continents during the last few thousand years, hence the species existing there could not have evolved from those few allegedly saved by Noah.
Of course, the story about the flood has many other inconsistencies. It looks like the author of the Biblical story did not know much about the geography, since he did not know about any mountain higher than Ararat. The highest point of that mountainous body, which is situated where the boundaries between Armenia, Turkey, and Iran meet, is 16854 feet (4983 m). Less than two hundred miles (about three hundred kilometers) north of Ararat, the mountain of Elbrus stands 18510 feet (5462 m) high. It is within the Great Caucasus range, which stretches for a few hundred miles, and in which several peaks exceed the height of Ararat. Of course, many mountains (Himalaya, Pamir, and others) are much higher than even those of Caucasus. If Ararat was indeed the first mountain to show above the receding waters, as Genesis tells us, then obviously the flood could be only a local one, covering a limited area rather than enveloping the entire earth as the Bible wants us to believe.
To explain the described inconsistency, defenders of the Bible often maintain that the name Ararat meant some different mountain. Of course, no evidence for such a name change was ever presented. Moreover, all the mountains suggested to possibly be the real Biblical Ararat are even much lower than that majestic white peak hovering above the southern border of Armenia.
There is no doubt that many floods happened in the long history of our planet. Legends about those floods, often exaggerating their scope, were transmitted from generation to generation. The Biblical story is just one of those legends, no better substantiated by any factual evidence than the stories told by other religions.
The subject of discussion in this section is actually just an extension of our previous discussion of the age of the universe. Indeed, according to the Biblical account, Man (adam) was created (as per Genesis 1) or formed (as per Genesis 2) on the sixth day of creation, hence the age of humankind is practically the same as the age of the universe. However, the adherents of the Bible's inerrancy use different arguments in regard to the two questions -– the age of the universe and the age of humankind. Therefore we will discuss these two topics separately.
Today, according to the Jewish calendar, we live in the year of 5761. Hence, the Jewish religious tradition derived from the Biblical account maintains that the universe, and with it humankind, has existed for about 5761 years. Some other denominations for which the Bible also is a sacred source, have slightly altered that tradition, extending the age of humankind as far back as about 7500 years. Obviously these traditions are at odds with archeological data. The latter indicate that creatures in all respects like our fellow humans roamed the earth many thousands of years earlier than the Bible story implies.
Of course, the "young earth creationists" simply dismiss the archeological data asserting that God deliberately placed fossils in the Earth's crust to create an illusion that the Earth is as old as these fossils seem to indicate. Why God would play such games of deception with poor archeologists and how the adherents of that explanation have acquired the knowledge of God's trick, remains the secret of those believers in the Bible's inerrancy. Their views are consistent even if absurdly obscurant, and cannot be argued against in rational terms. They offer no logical or factual arguments in favor of their views, which have been instilled in their minds either via indoctrination at an early age or, less often, via some emotional experience.
On the other hand, many other adherents of the Bible's inerrancy realize that the Biblical story seems absurd at its face value, so they try to reconcile that story with the findings of science. In regard to the age of humankind, an often-expressed explanation is that the human-like creatures who lived on the Earth before adam only looked like human beings but actually were animals. Some 5761 years ago, God created the first real man, who received from God his soul (in Hebrew neshamah). Unlike any animal, only Man was created in the image of God.
First, note that the cited explanation is not based on information contained anywhere in the Bible. Here we see a typical example of an explanation that is contrived a posteriori to make a theory fit the data.
Second, it is easy to see that the explanation in question contradicts the known facts. The human-like creatures who lived earlier than 5761 years ago had too many features identical with our fellow humans. Long before that day 5671 years ago, those creatures made clothes and adorned them with embellishments, developed rather sophisticated technologies, built cities, harvested crops, used artificial irrigation, engaged in arts, and developed writing systems. Moreover, they looked very much like modern man, hence they reflected, at least in their looks, the same (imperfect) "image of God" as modern Man does.
These facts, however, do not seem to impress the believers in the Bible's inerrancy. They insist that all the listed achievements do not characterize a creature as being distinctive from animals, whereas "image of God" does not mean simply the physical appearance.
There seems, however, to be a point of agreement between the believers in the Bible's inerrancy and skeptics. Both seem to agree that the decisive difference between humans and animals is in their stand versus the concept of God. Animals, who do not possess a neshamah, have no concept of deity. The feature that separates Man from all animals, is Man's concept of and relationship with God.
The archeological data show, however, that for thousands years earlier than 5761 years ago human-like creatures built religious shrines and temples, hence they obviously had the concept of a deity and stood in a certain relation to it.
Therefore, belief in the word of the Bible in regard to the age of the humankind is not based on any evidence, while the scientific data show quite convincingly that the Biblical story cannot be true, despite all the mental acrobatics utilized to allegedly reconcile the two incompatible views. So far, the believers in the Bible's inerrancy can not offer any convincing arguments in favor of their position.
There are in the Bible many stories about God speaking directly to people, sometimes out of a burning bush, sometimes out of clouds, and the like. These stories obviously are well beyond the everyday experience of ordinary people and raise a question about the plausibility of such events. Unless we wish to blindly accept every Biblical story as being true, the natural question seems to be, who wrote the Bible and why should we trust its authors when they tell us about those miraculous events?
This leads naturally to the most fundamental question: why should we believe, first and foremost, that there is indeed an invisible God who created the universe and the humankind?
Of course, the question of God's existence has been discussed an uncounted number of times and the same sets of arguments have been repeated time and time again both in favor and against the concept of an God, the Creator of the universe.
We will discuss here one of the often suggested arguments in favor of God's existence, which is referred to as the watchmaker argument. It is as follows.
Imagine that you find a watch. You pick it up and study its construction. You discover that this is a sophisticated combination of parts, obviously fitting each other, smoothly working together, and performing a well designed function. Obviously, the argument goes, it is highly improbable that such a contraption could have come into existence via some chain of random events; it bears unmistakable signs of intelligent design. If there is design, there must have been a designer, a watchmaker.
Of course, the above "argument from design" as the idea illustrated by the analogy with a watch has become known, was refuted long time ago with regards to the origin of complex biological systems. A watch is in principle different from a living organism in that it has no ability to reproduce. Hence, a watch has neither ancestors nor descendants. It could not evolve by any imaginable natural process from a preceding simpler mechanism. On the contrary, living organisms can reproduce and therefore could have evolved from very simple remote ancestors via small inheritable changes through a long succession of generations.
The universe is much-much more complex than a watch. It has obviously been designed, say the adherents of the Bible's inerrancy, according to an extremely sophisticated plan, hence there must be a designer of the highest intelligence, the Creator of the world, God. The argument invoking the ability to reproduce is obviously not applicable to the universe, hence, the "argument from design" is, in the opinion of the defenders of the Bible's inerrancy, valid and points to the existence of a divine creator of the universe.
This is a powerful argument and it cannot be dismissed out of hand. However, this argument has serious weaknesses as well and cannot be viewed as a kind of proof in favor of the hypothesis of God.
Let us first return to the example of a watch. As with any analogy, its usefulness is rather limited. Indeed, the mere fact that a watch is complex combination of parts working together leaves too many points still obscure. We base our judgment on our experience. In our experience, all watches we have ever seen were made by watchmakers. Therefore we conclude that this watch was also a result of a watchmaker's effort.
It is also possible that this watch is the product of some automatic line which makes them without human interference, following a certain program.
"Aha," would say the defenders of the idea of a divine watchmaker. "What about the program you mentioned? Could that program come into existence by itself, as a result of random events? Obviously there must have been an intelligent programmer to create it."
Right. Is it though not possible that the program in question was the product of a program of a higher order which served as a generator of various programs of lower orders? Such programs are well known.
"Stop!" would say the defenders of the Bible's inerrancy. "This program of a higher order is obviously even more sophisticated than the program governing the production of watches. It is even less probable that the higher-order program came into existence via a chain of random events. So, the argument about automatic lines ruled by a program by no means eliminates the necessity of an intelligent designer. It just shifts the problem to a higher level of sophistication, where the necessity of an intelligent designer becomes even more obvious."
Let us agree with that argument. Then we can ask: if the universe came into existence due to the action of a divine creator, then the Creator himself must have been even more sophisticated than his creation. If we believe that the very complex universe could not emerge by itself, why should we believe that its alleged Creator, who must be even more complex than the universe, could? If we wish to be consistent, we have to assume that the alleged Creator could have come into existence only via the creative act of some Super-Creator. The Super-Creator must be even more complex and sophisticated than the lower-order Creator. Then, to be consistent, we have to assume the existence of a Hyper-Super-Creator, and so ad infinitum.
Of course, defenders of the Bible's inerrancy have a ready answer to the above argument. They assert that the difference between the universe and its alleged Creator is in that the universe had a beginning and hence had to be created, whereas God is eternal, i.e. always existed (or, alternatively, exists beyond the time) and therefore there is no need to assume a Super-Creator.
Such an explanation is fine, except for one point. How do the Bible's defenders know that much about God? What is the source of their information? No one has ever offered even a hint at any evidence, not to mention proof, for their beliefs in the eternal (or "beyond-time") supreme being, except for the invitation to simply believe in his existence.
Does science provide any evidence against the existence of God? No. Does science provide any evidence in favor of God's existence? No. Science is not equipped to answer the question of God's existence. This question has always been and remains a matter of personal faith.
However, the questions of God's existence and of the authorship of the Bible are two different questions. If we assume that the Bible is God's creation, than we have to conclude that either God cares little about consistency or that he likes to play pranks with humans and gave us the Bible to see the extent of our lack of reason and logic.
A much more plausible assumption is that the Bible is a product of human effort, having nothing to do with either the real or imaginary God. The Bible's inconsistencies could then be understood as the consequences of its being written by various writers at various times. Its historical parts may or may not reflect the real history of the early Middle East. Its legendary stories are often distinguished by a great poetic power. In its many parts, the lives and actions of vividly portrayed characters, with their human faults, are described without covering up their misdeeds and even crimes, such as murder, incest, betrayal, along with some heroic deeds.
The Biblical stories have inspired many great creations of art. With all of its inconsistencies and the highly uneven level of the narrative, the Bible is a monumental piece of great literature. However, its stories about the creation of the world and of humankind, its cosmogony, and even some parts of its historical reports, have no substantiation. In many respects it denies logic, and therefore it is, most plausibly, a collection of legends, poems, and ancient chronicles of purely human origin.