Thursday, November 5, 2009

Never Quite Grasping God - Part V: Written in stone

Read parts 1 - 4 below to gain some context for this entry.

The Geological Record undermines the Bible

Most religions have some sort of origin myth. As usual my focus is on the Judeo-Christian story but many of my points could be applied to other myths as well.
The age of the Earth, and by extension, the age of the solar system and even the universe, has been a topic of controversy even between different religious sects. The extreme fundamentalists, also known as Young Earth Creationists (YEC), take a literal view of the Bible and espouse a belief that the world is about 6,000 years old (based on the generations listed in the Bible) and that God created everything in the 6 days mentioned in Genesis. There are less strict interpretations but they pretty much fall to the same arguments that invalidated the Young Earth for me. As a child in Sunday school I was given the standard Let-there-be-light, Adam & Eve story. It was never presented as allegorical so I took it that we were supposed to believe it literally. As I got older and learned about fossilized dinosaurs and the Grand Canyon I realized that these items didn’t fit the 6 day scenario. My church was rather liberal about this and allowed us to rationalize these incongruities in any manner we could. Maybe the story was allegorical. Maybe “1 day” was really 300 million years in God time. Whatever it was, it got me started on thinking: “If this part of the Bible wasn’t literally true, what else might be questioned?” I understand now why the fundamentalists cling to the 6 day, Adam & Eve story. Once you start questioning, where do you stop? In my junior high school days I just stuck with the maybes. I wasn’t yet sophisticated enough to see the real problems. Gradually though I learned enough geology, geography, chemistry and other sciences to see that we had valid reasons for thinking that the Earth was billions of years old and that dinosaurs pre-dated man by hundreds of millions of years. If the Earth were only 6,000 years old then God was playing a stupendous trick on us by putting fossils in layers of sediment that appeared to be much, much older than a few thousand years. The God of the Bible has several rather unappealing human characteristics (jealousy, anger, vengefulness) but would he be a trickster too? This world didn’t seem to have been made by the God of the Bible. There were two other choices. The first was one that I grasped at when I was younger and that was that God created the universe and set the laws of ‘Mother Nature’ to work and let things happen from there. That’s all well and good. It’s what I now know is called Deism. But… it’s not the personally involved, knows-every-sparrow, God of the Bible. So such a being, one that set things in motion and then sat back to watch (or went away), might exist but we have no reason to worship, perform rituals, or count on any kind of intervention. A sort of useless god. The other option was that there was no God, or gods, and that everything resulted from natural processes. So three basic choices; interventionist God-of-the-Bible type, deistic non-interventionist god, or no god. Realizing the vacuity of the first two, I opted for the latter.