Dust

Question from another Brian:
I am Christian, but very open to new ideas. I am writing because I recently watched this video series and found problem with it. If quantum physics proves that everything was created from the dust of exploding stars, how is it possible that the bible references that we can from dust? Just a random guess?

Answer by SmartLX:
Quite possibly, yes.

Genesis 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.” I assume that’s the passage you’re mainly referring to. If it’s supposed to be an intentional reference to the fact that the matter in our bodies was ejected by dying stars, I’d be a lot more impressed if it had actually said that.

“Dust” refers to an extremely broad range of substances. In fact, any dry element or compound can in principle be finely crushed and scattered as dust, and in fact it’s all like that when it’s ejected from a star. The “dust of the ground” is a long way from stardust, and it’s one particular kind of dust from which we’re not necessarily made. Ground and airborne dust can be composed of any number of minerals or metals which have no place in the human body, and can even be deadly to us.

Genesis states that Adam was created from dust, but by saying this specifically it implies that all the other plants and animals weren’t, when in fact we’re all made from stardust. It says instead that they were brought forth from the earth, which in a way is true but especially in the case of plants is bleeding obvious. No connection between earth and “dust” is indicated, and besides common creation by God there’s no reference to common methods of formation (in fact, it sets us apart from other lifeforms as much as it can) which means there’s really no sign of an understanding of modern cosmology or biology on the part of the author.

No one ever said that the Bible gets every single thing wrong. It was written by humans with an average amount of intuition for things that seem true, in some cases because they are true in some way. You’d need a much more specific reference to modern scientific knowledge than is present anywhere in the Bible to make divine inspiration seem more likely than careful guesses, or simple over-interpretation by modern apologists.

Incidentally the stardust idea has little to do with quantum mechanics. That’s from plain old astrophysics. Quantum mechanics possibly has more to say about the origin of the matter in the universe than about what that matter does once it departs a star.

4 thoughts on “Dust”

  1. The Vedas of the Hindus say that the number of species in the world is 8.5 million (the number of births one has to take in order to come back in human form) which is very close to current estimates. They also say that the time it takes for life to spring forth and go back to nothing is around 8.4 billion years (which modern science tells us is about the same as the life of an average star like the sun).

    A number of religious texts have something interesting to say about our existence but I do not think those tidbits sum up to anything substantial.
    It would be a bit naive to assume that the Vedas are the texts of god (as they claim to be) simply because the give sensible estimates of some things. They obviously have got so many other things wrong. I think the same holds for any other religious text. They might have some facts right or nearly right (by intuition, or plain luck) but that does not amount to much.

  2. Comment by Gabby:
    Thanks for the chance to talk to you. When the Genesis was written, was indeed written by a man who lead a slaved people, the people of Israel in Egypt. This was Moses. He was raised as a prince in Egypt and had a high education in fact. God chose him to lead this slaves out of Egypt and also chose him to write all the information that this people will need to know about their only God. The language that he had to used was obviously a language that ANY ONE could understand about the creation, etc. Moses didn’t think about the great advances that technology and physics, math, etc would do to explain many facts in the universe. What is truth is that him (Moses) starts the telling in the Genesis as:
    “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Therefore there is a beginning of the matter. And that is probably what humans will find out because that is what they are looking for. Then they will finally go to the beginning of the task: WHO created the matter, where does it come from????
    So Moses just used the plain easy way to tell them WHAT happened not HOW. That is our job if we really want to know.
    Thanks for your site is very interesting.

  3. Gabby, I won’t get into the lack of evidence supporting the existence of Moses, except to say that it’s nowhere near even the level of evidence supporting the existence of Jesus. Whether the author of Genesis was Moses, or God through Moses, or someone else later on, is irrelevant to this question.

    I would ask you to consider, since Genesis is indeed written in very simple terms, how it’s possible to determine whether the author
    1. had an understanding of the scientific reality of the formation of living things but chose to write simply for his audience, or
    2. didn’t know jack about the science and used a simple, general story that happened to have a role for “dust”, a word we later used to describe entirely different particles.

    If we cannot determine this, there is no evidence that Genesis contains divinely bestowed information about science, which is what Brian is trying to establish.

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