Genesis, Flourishing and Other Course Questions

Question from Jordan:
How might an Atheist answer these questions regarding human nature, purpose and flourishing…what does it mean for humans to flourish, how do they achieve spiritual, emotional and mental well-being? What are the consequences of the Fall of human nature (Gen 3)? What is revealed of human nature (from Gen 1-2)?

Answer by SmartLX:
I answered the first part in a comment because someone asked the same question from the same Christian Worldview course, but I’ll cover it again. My other piece has a lot of material you might also find useful.

To flourish is to grow or develop in a healthy way. Physically, mentally and emotionally that means having the resources you need along with something which provides a challenge. Food, exercise, study, work, art, interpersonal relationships, meditation/reflection…it all has a role to play. To a Christian the essential resource is God, and without a relationship with Him a human cannot flourish properly. I think there is no God and yet lots of people happily flourish in all kinds of ways, so what they need in order to flourish would seem to be other things.

Genesis 3 is where Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge, their eyes are opened (figuratively, as they aren’t actually blind before that point), and God curses the living daylights out of them both. The message is that humans would have been better off knowing only what God chose to tell them, not because the other knowledge is inherently harmful but because God is incredibly tough on disobedience. Human nature didn’t change after they ate because it wasn’t perfect before they ate – Eve wanted the fruit before she ate it. They just suddenly knew more, and their circumstances changed because of the curses they received and life got harder in lots of little ways (e.g. labour pains, arbitrary enmity between people, farming difficulties).

Humans don’t show up until the end of Genesis 1, and Genesis 2 doesn’t say anything about Adam’s nature except that God decides he needs an Eve. From the above, even Genesis 3 says far more about God’s nature than human nature. But now’s as good a time as any to say that by the nature of evolution, geology, physics, etc. there’s no way the story of Adam and Eve was real and I’m interpreting a work of fiction here. That said, a parable can say a great deal about human nature, I just don’t think this one does.

The Old Testament – Ancient Chinese Edition

Question from Heather:
Awhile back (probably 2 years ago) I saw this site that said the Chinese language documented the events of the Old Testament. I forgot the exact words they used but basically certain things translated directly to “woman and serpent” or “boat with many mouths.” Things like that. How do you explain a language “documenting the events of the Old Testament”?

Answer by SmartLX:
This argument for Christianity is put forth in full by the book The Discovery of Genesis: How The Truths of Genesis Were Found In The Chinese Language. Three examples of the supposed links are shown here.

Shortly after the book was published, it was pointed out to the authors that the analyses were based on the modern forms of the Chinese characters, most of which came about long after the time of Christ and hardly counted as “ancient” in comparison to the Bible. The book Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve followed very quickly, which threw out much of the earlier material and started over. (Confucius, of course, had nothing to do with any of this.)

Some specific criticisms of the books and their underlying argument can be found in the customer reviews of each book on Amazon, particularly the 1-star reviews. To address the issue very broadly, however, these claims rely on single interpretations of just the few most applicable of the thousands of Chinese characters, most of which already have plausible secular etymology. If a symbol literally means “woman and serpent”, for example, to how many different legends (or real-life snake stories akin to Cleopatra’s) could this be referring besides Genesis? Why is it more likely that the symbol was magically transmitted from a foreign story than simply adapted from some part of the great wealth of Asian mythology?

The real issue, similar to that of “God’s Pharmacy”, is confirmation bias. People notice the few coincidental links in a sea of possible combinations of Chinese symbols and Judeo-Christian icons, and ignore the fact that because there are so many of both we would expect a few matches even if there’s no real connection.

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.

Does Genesis Reflect Modern Science?

“In summary, we have a very old document which gets many things wrong as well as right, and contains no details which indicate that the things it got right were anything more than intuitive guesses, except for various passages which have been broadly interpreted millenia later in terms of what we now know.”

Question from Antonia:
I was debating some days ago with some (Orthodox) Christians and at some point of the conversation I was asked something rather puzzling and I wasn’t sure how to answer: We have evidence that the Book of Genesis was written at about 500-450 BC or at least before 150 BC (since the oldest manuscripts of the book of Genesis are the 24 fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and they are dating between 150 BC – 70 AD). The book talks about the creation of the world describing the events in the exact same order as scientists have confirmed in very recent discoveries; I am talking about the order in which water, land, the first animals and human appeared on earth. How can that happen? How can a book so old describe these events since the technology and science of that time was not as advanced as it is today? Of course they can only explain it as a word of God but I’m wondering if there’s some other explanation…

Answer:
Firstly, I have no problem with that rough estimate of when the Book of Genesis was first written. The point of the emphasis on that is to establish simply that it was written before the emergence proper of astronomy, geology, biology and paleontology. That’s pretty obvious.

The reason such an early document can describe the events – not in that much detail, really, but at least in roughly the right order – is that in many cases they seem as if they couldn’t have happened any other way. Humans eat meat and plants, and animals eat plants, so animals must have come after plants and humans after that. There had to be earth (the Earth, which incidentally they thought was flat and had “corners”) for water to settle on, and the water had to be moved aside for land to appear. For the purposes of the authors when Genesis was written, it merely had to sound right, so it does.

Between picking the obvious stuff, Genesis makes glaring mistakes. The main one is saying that day and night, and plants, let alone the Earth itself, were created before the sun (one of the two “great lights”) was. The scientific view is that the Earth formed around the sun 500 million years into its lifespan, that plants came well after that and that the sun causes day and night. Besides this, in Genesis animals emerged in just two short bursts over two days: sea creatures and birds together, then land animals. (That places most dinosaurs after birds, instead of the reverse.) A creationist (probably an old-earth creationist, if the issue has gotten this detailed) might then argue that science has these things wrong, but by doing so would completely abandon the argument that Genesis reflects modern science.

Then, of course, there’s also no sense of timescales in Genesis except the passage of the six days. Even if you apply “day-age creationism”, where each Biblical day represents huge amounts of time, the different days have to stand for different intervals ranging from a few million years to several billion, and there’s no sign of which days are the longest.

In summary, we have a very old document which gets many things wrong as well as getting some things right, and contains no details which indicate that the things it got right were anything more than intuitive guesses – except for various passages which have been broadly interpreted millennia later in terms of what we now know. See my piece on prophecies; the apparently accurate parts of Genesis are candidates for #1. High Probability of Success and #4. Shoehorned.

SmartLX