Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Genesis 1:2 and the Christian Delusion.

I read the Christian Delusion a while back, having gotten a copy in Riverside signed by Richard Carrier. The chapters are all pretty fantastic and it's hugely informative, and I'm already rather encyclopedic so learning new things is rarer than it should be on such subjects. But, Babinski's chapter on Biblical Cosmology has been hugely influential on me. My views were pretty shattershot.

I understood that parts of the Bible talked about the vault of heaven and that the sky was a hardened dome. But, I never really understood the entire picture. I figured that people thought the sky was water because it was blue. It turns out that within Semitic cosmology that's just the color of the bottom of heaven of the firmament which is held up by the mountains. But, I never understood why the dome was spread-out like hard metal or resting on firm foundations, or the other bits that relate to cosmology. And it has a lot to do with how the world was created in the myth and what existed before and the picture people had of the universe.

Genesis starts out with basically a preamble, in the beginning, the gods created the heavens and the Earth. And then describes how they came to be. What's interesting is how the second line of the creation myth is just glossed over, and largely ignored. The first line we get, the third line is understandable, but what the hell is that second line saying?

1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Sure, formless earth, nothing there, darkness are all understandable. But, what is the "face of the deep"? And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters? What waters? When did waters get created? If you read through the genesis account, water is never created. There's a lot of sections about dividing the waters by making the firmament and keeping  it apart from the waters of the Earth. And allowing land to be exist, and gathering waters into seas, but never actually making the water. The reason for this is that at the core of the cosmology it isn't a creation ex nilho.

The universe was created out of a cosmic ocean. The firmament and the Earth divide the waters because its all waters. And cosmic ocean underlay all the cosmologies of the Semitic regions. The universe according to the Bible wasn't made out of nothing, it was made out of a formless ocean that was divided up. The reason for professing repeatedly in the Bible as to how strong and secure the firmament, how it's made of strong metal, and upon solid foundations and expertly crafted, is because it was a very real fear that the ocean might crush you. That Noah's Flood might very well happen and the waters will flow out of the vault of heaven and out from under the Earth, and our precarious little bubble might not exist.

7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

8:2 The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;

And given the myth of the flood it was absolutely vital to assure people that such a thing would never ever happen again, with God's regrets, and pinky-promises and rainbows.

9:11 And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
9:12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
9:13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

It was a very real worry that the cosmic ocean would kill everybody., and much of the Bible goes to dissuade our fears of this. And in fact, because the sky is hard and metal and protects us, it's clear evidence for God.

Psalms 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

And really, understanding this is rather devastating  to Biblical cosmology and a lot of apologetics. There's a lot of stuff with like the Kalam Cosmological Argument that largely says that the universe was created ex nilho and science can't explain this, but God fully explains how this happened. But, the Bible never actually said that, it starts out with a cosmic ocean and a sky made of hard material on solid foundations, which attest to the handiwork of God. Far be it for Christianity to explain the Big Bang with a divine fallacy, they need to explain rather where that original cosmic ocean came from. The gods created the heavens and the Earth to divide up the waters, but that's doesn't explain the origins of the cosmic ocean.

The Bible doesn't actually fit that paradigm at all, it not even trying to answer to the question of what caused the initial expansion/existence of spacetime. It's answering very specifically  how did the strong firmament of heaven and dry land get formed out of a cosmic ocean. The answer is "God did it", in fact God spent a solid 1/6th of the time he spent making stuff to make that firmament, that majestic roof fretted with golden fire (as Shakespeare put it). Spending the entire second day on it. Dry land was part of the third day. Then in day four God spends a lot of time adding bling to the firmament. Putting stars in it, and really big balls of light to travel across the firmament. The little tiny spots of light (which according to Revelations will fall to the ground during the end times) and the giant greater and lesser lights of the sun and moon, just to deck it out and give us signs for seasons and such. A lot of the OT is depended on this view of the universe, and really by coming to understand that, you really see how hollow various claims about how God explains the universe actually are. If you read the Bible, the authors have no clue what the universe is really like and spend a considerable amount of time explaining how why the cosmic ocean doesn't kill us, how the sky is hard as metal, and how awesome God is for making said firmament.

So the general theist argument that atheists can't explain the origins of the universe but God does, is even hollower, not just because the answers we have are really good and anything is better than the always wrong answer theists try to shove into every gap, but because the Christian God explains the origins of the metal dome protecting us from the cosmic ocean..


Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Tartarize, Thanks for the kudos. I liked everything you wrote, especially the line about "adding bling."

Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that there was only one agreed upon view of what the firmament was made out of. Some guessed it was metallic (Greeks, Homer, and there's a verse in Job in the Hebrew Bible that mentions metal), while others suggested rock (Mesopotamian), some said the stretched out skin of a goddess (Mesopotamian), or an overarching goddess (Egyptian).

As John Walton points out (an Evangelical who teaches the Old Testament at Wheaton College and who has taken the time to study and write about the biblical cosmology light of other ancient cosmologies): "The Israelites [like the nations around them] . . . believed that the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of the deity as well as hold back waters."

Also see Walton's NIV Commentary on Genesis in which he admits that in Genesis 1 birds are depicted as flying [literally] "across the face of the firmament," i.e., their flight as viewed from below, while the same chapter adds that vast waters lie "above the firmament" (enough, along with the waters beneath the earth) to Flood the earth as many times as God wants, but He promises to hold them back.

Another "firmament" is mentioned briefly in the book of Ezekiel and is spoken of as supporting a throne in heaven with angel's wings spread out straight beneath such a firmament.

"Firmament" is a highly specific word that appears less than 20 times in the Bible, and is not to be confused with "heaven" that appears hundreds of times in the Bible and in a far wider variety of contexts.

If you're interested in other comparisons between the Bible and science I suggest reading:

Does the Bible Contradict Accepted Biological Concepts?

Does the Bible Speak of the Brain?

Inerrant Wisdom: Science and Inerrancy in Biblical Perspective, Paul Seely [chapters compare Biblical ideas with modern scientific ones]

Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution, Denis O. Lamoureux [chapters compare Biblical ideas with modern scientific ones]

I would also add that there is an old-earth creationist article online that attempts to dispute the verse in Job that metnions a metal "mirror," but Sirach uses the same Hebrew term where it is "mirror."

Tatarize said...

Thank you for your comment.

I have previously used the term "metal-like" as there's nothing to conclude the firmament was thought to actually be metal. Just spread-out like metal.

I was unaware of other uses for firmament, but I assume "firmament of heaven" is a safe usage to refer to the supporting material dome in the sky. And contextually it shouldn't be too unclear.

I'll check the links. Thank you for the clarifications. And also for the awesomeness factor of commenting on post of mine that references you. The effect is rather stunning.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi again, CORRECTION, In my first paragraph I was using the term "firmament" very generally as "something solid" and not suggesting that there are a variety of definitions for the HEBREW term. Those other solid spread out "firmaments" are from other ANE cosmologies that I cited in my chapter on biblical cosmology.

Also, you write very well. I bet you read a lot of fiction too, since you write so creatively.

You also understood the points I was attempting to get across, and the verses and ideas involved, and re-expressed them very well in your blog entry. I hope you will cut and paste your blog entry into the book review page for The Christian Delusion!

Tatarize said...

I typically read blogs, and non-fiction books, and reserve my consumption of fiction to movies and TV. I'm not sure how much reading fiction would help one's creativity, outside of more direct examples to borrow from.

Reading fiction would just allow some additional recycling of material but there's not much truly creative there.

I daresay, that nonfiction is better for one's creative streak. It's one thing to rehash a story, it's another thing to say something profound, true, and find a new way of seeing it or a better way of describing the old way of seeing it. That seems to me to be real fount of creativity. Such things requires a sort of deep understanding you could only get from reality. The best fiction is rehashed reality rather than rehashed fiction.

And, it seems like you could be the most creative (in the creating sense) person ever and just make brand new idea after brand new idea, but without a deep understanding of how things work and why they are as they are, you won't be able to shoot down your own ideas, and you'll end up having a very poor signal to noise ratio.

Good creativity works like an evolutionary algorithm. It's not enough to make new ideas/information/genetic tweaks, but you've got to filter that through reality and see what really works. And that requires knowing a heck of a lot about what reality is really like. Which takes science, and science is same process: new ideas, filter with reality.

-- But, as I haven't read much fiction I might be wrong about such things.

As for, I've been planning on getting down to writing a real review of the book. But, I'm currently at the everybody-I-know-needs-to-read-this stage, so I don't have my copy handy (as it away supposedly being read). But, there certainly are five stars waiting in the wings.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Thanks Tartarize, I think there's some real poetry in fiction, some marvelous phrases and descriptions, that inspire people to well, read it. What made me compare your work to it was your line about God "adding bling," and some of your other marvelous phrases.

John Sladek, R. A. Lafferty, and Woody Allen's prose comedy pieces contain some marvelous lines.