July 09, 2014

Dear Christians:
Yes, I see the contradictions in Genesis 1 and 2

Dear Christians is a regular column that addresses many of the fallacies about atheism I was brought up to believe in under fundamentalism.



Dear Christians,

Genesis 1 and 2 have vexed me for a very long time. I can remember wondering about the differences between the stories when I was quite young--just old enough to read my own King James Version of the Bible.

Don't worry, I've heard all of the reasonings behind why they mash up, but it still doesn't make sense to me. Let's take a quick look at why:


Here's Genesis 1:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day 
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. 
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kindsand trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. 
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. 
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 
22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. 
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. 
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
And then there is Genesis 2:

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 
Adam and Eve
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earthand there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.7 Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” 
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 
23 The man said,“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.” 
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The order in chapter one goes like this:
  • First day: light
  • Second day: sky
  • Third day: land and sea and plants
  • Fourth day: sun and moon
  • Fifth day: animals
  • Sixth day: mankind
Chapter one also seems to indicate that mankind was created on the sixth day--male and female he created them. I don't know about anyone else, but this strikes me as odd when he transitions to the next chapter, and only creates one man and one woman--and not at the same time as would seem to be indicated in the first chapter.

The order is also off. Chapter one, as demonstrated, indicates that plants were created on the third day. However, Chapter 2 is quite specific. There were no plants before mankind:
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earthand there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.7 Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
 Lest we forget, here's the relevant scripture from Chapter 1:
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kindsand trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. 

The third day, vegetation.

Chapter 2 also seems to indicate that man was created before the animals, while Chapter 1 indicates that man was created after the animals:
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 
I can understand the impulse to cleave to religion. I can see how it would be a source of support and comfort. What I can't understand is biblical literalism. If both these accounts are literally true, they are inherently flawed--you can't have plants created before and after man. You can't have animals created before and after man. If the Bible is meant to be taken literally, you can't add to it and say "Well, obviously, they didn't mean all of mankind in chapter one, they only meant Adam and Eve"--no. It says mankind, which is a word with a definitive meaning.

As I've said, I don't need more explanations--I've heard them. But when you put them in the context of the Bible--the Bible that I accepted as literally true for so many years--it doesn't make sense. If I am to expect the Bible to be the literal and direct word of God, I must say, I expect it to not start off with a vexing section of scripture for me to interpret.

When I was a Christian, I accepted that Genesis 1 was just an overview, while Genesis 2 went into more detail. This was the explanation that made the most sense. As I began to study my Bible more, however, I found that even this explanation no longer worked for me.

I know it is tempting to look at a former Christian turned Atheist and feel like they never understood the Bible whatsoever, but I assure you, as we've talked about before, I absolutely believed in my Bible. I felt, when I read it, I felt divine inspiration. I felt like I was able to understand it at a level that I could not otherwise.

My point here isn't that your Bible is wrong. If you believe it, that's enough. My point here is that people do see legitimate issues in the Bible, issues that they have, in fact, researched, studied, explored, argued, prayed over...

Parting with one's faith is not necessarily easy. It's not something undertaken lightly. For me, it involved much soul-searching, and yes, much Bible study.

Respect is a mutual street. Those that would wish for respect for their religious belief should also expect to give that respect to those of different beliefs--or with no belief at all.

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