Nitpicking Genesis

[read the disclaimer before proceeding]

The purpose of these pages is not to “disprove” any religions or to offend any individuals, but rather to fulfill a personal longing for the truth. In the process, however, I will be pleased if these pages can help steer potential victims away from a childishly literal interpretation of the Bible, and argue that this kind of interpretation is demonstrably harmful.

What follows is a logically and scientifically rigorous analysis of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The verses are shown in bold text, and my questions and comments are shown in plain indented text. I will continually post additions to the comments, as well as rebuttals that I may find in other websites, usenet postings, or e-mails sent to me. I will then post my responses to the rebuttals, and the process will begin again. In time, I hope this will become an all-inclusive list of inconsistencies, fallacies, and contradictions found in Genesis. This will also include lists of responses and “solutions” to the contradictions from the perspectives of believers of literal and not-so-literal interpretations of Genesis.

Please click on any of the Genesis links in the sidebar to view the commentary for a certain chapter. As you can see, the commentary is still in its infancy, but is nevertheless ready for viewing and feedback.

I am indeed aware of the existence of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (a website with a similar purpose to these pages), and have the greatest admiration for the author’s comments. However, because of the sheer volume of the SAB, the comments seen there tend to be very brief and often require further elaboration. I have also found that, if I focus on Genesis alone, I can come up with a great deal more comments than the SAB contains, especially if I am going to include responses to the comments. Therefore, at least for Genesis, this will be a more complete list.

Keep in mind that these pages offer commentary that is based on a mostly literal (and sometimes super-literal) interpretation of Genesis. If a certain comment appears absolutely ridiculous, then it must originate from a ridiculously literal interpretation. The thing to remember is that there are individuals that actually adhere to, and swear by, such interpretations.

Ethics of Interpretation

The fact that one person’s interpretation of the Bible may be abhorrent to another already conflicts with the idea of the Bible being divinely inspired. It begs the question, “Couldn’t a god do a better job of writing a book, especially if the book is supposed to be the guidebook for our lives and our key to salvation?”

Christian bookstores are overflowing with “companion” guides that attempt to enlighten the reader as to the “true” interpretation of a certain verse, or the “real” reason a certain Biblical event took place. But why is any of this necessary if it is the Bible itself that we are supposed to believe, not some biased third-party supplement?

I suspect that most Christian responses to this commentary will be appeals to interpretation. But interpretation is inherently personal, and thus inadmissible as an argument.

Literal Interpretations

I doubt that a completely literal interpretation of Genesis is even conceivable, just because of the vagueness of the language used in the first few chapters. For example, “God created the heaven and the earth” is scientifically meaningless and can only be interpreted as a metaphor. It would seem that the Bible, especially Genesis, leaves a few too many things up to the imagination of the reader.

There are, however, many individuals who claim to take the entire Bible “word for word,” despite the mental acrobatics necessary for such a feat, and the absurdity of the claim itself. I am certain that comments from such individuals will also be included in this list, and will be the primary target of this analysis.

Semi-literal Interpretations

Others (in fact, a greater number than literalists) claim to take the Bible “word for word,” but only in certain places. Quite simply, this translates to: “There are some things in the Bible that even I can’t wrap my mind around.” One would think that this kind of interpretation would begin to raise questions and suspicions in the mind of the semi-literalist. Enter the patented Christian defense mechanism, “God works in mysterious ways” — a brilliantly crafted auto-response system that suppresses any further desire to question or reason things out. A similar form of the defense mechanism is, “You just have to believe.” In the mind of the believer, mysteries (at least religious ones) are meant to be unsolved, and the believer is left simply to bask in their insolubility. In fact, the greater the mystery, the better it is not to solve it. And the more absurd the verse, the more of a virtue it is to believe it (this is covered in great detail by Richard Dawkins in Viruses of the Mind).

An obvious question that arises against semi-literal interpretations is, on whose authority does one decide which verses to take literally, and which to take as metaphor? There is also, of course, an infinite number of degrees of semi-literal interpretation of the Bible, where some people may adhere literally to more verses than others, which only makes the above question all the more important.

Nonliteral Interpretations

Yes, there are indeed Christians that believe the Earth is older than 6,000 years. There are also Christians that go so far as saying that Genesis was not written by God, or not even inspired by God.
These kinds of interpretation would require blocking out entire chapters of the Bible and treating them as nothing but metaphor and bits of ancient wisdom. What, then, becomes left of the Bible? Why not simply take the extra step and consider “God” a metaphor as well?

In any case, it seems that a strictly literal (or as-close-to-literal) interpretation of Genesis would be fitting for this kind of analysis. This would minimize discrimination against anybody’s personal interpretation, and at the same time invite believers to examine such a literal interpretation and demonstrate how each verse breaks apart at the slightest application of reason.

On to Chapter 1 >>