27 March 2007

in da beginning...

I foresee a major discussion around the Genesis reading, especially given the number of physicists and vocal atheists in the class! Since I have long, complicated opinions on the topic, I'm going to post the potatoes here and only bring up the sirloin tips in class so I don't have to bore you.

First some basics about my position in all of this:

I was raised Lutheran, though these days I make it to church less frequently and the one I get to is actually Methodist, but ELCA and UMC are practically synonymous. I am skeptical about a lot of things in the Bible, but I do believe in the basic gist of it; i.e., God forgives our sins if we repent, Jesus died to save us, there is something after the death of the body besides nothingness (at least I want to believe that!).

Other than that, I take very few of the stories from the Bible literally. Genesis is an allegory (more on that), the virgin birth is a mistranslation (in the original language, the word used can mean "virgin" or "young woman"), and a lot of other stuff is hyperbole. Huge, enormous hyperbole, and events as interpreted by FALLIBLE HUMANS, YO!! *shakes fist at literal interpretations* Further, I think this non-tolerance of homosexuality and "preserving the sanctity of marriage" that religious conservatives in the US are stuffing down our throats is nonsense. That's a long and non-PC rant, so I won't go there. For now.

Finally (and perhaps mostly), I am a scientist, which means I question things and look for empirical evidence to support contentions. There are some things that I see as beyond the realm of science (at least as far as conclusive results are concerned), and this is where religion comes into my life, which is actually a frequent occurrence.

But on to Genesis. As a physicist and aspiring astronomer, not to mention skeptic, there is no way I can possibly take anything but the tiniest snippets of Genesis as truth. The one part I do see as unusually enlightened for an ancient (human!) writer, whether he was divinely inspired or not, is 4:3 (Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.) --- Big Bang, anyone? According to the prevalent theory, this is indeed what the first moments of the universe were like. First, there was nothing, not even technically space, since there was nothing by which to measure it or that could fill it or be aware of it in any way. Then suddenly, POW! energy EXPLODES out of the nothing (or from a higher dimension), and the new universe is so full of light (and no matter, yet) that it expands even faster, possibly, than the current speed of light. Seconds or eons pass (what is time at this point?), the first day. (See what I did there?) Eventually it expands enough that subatomic particles , the first matter, condense out of the energy, the second day. Further expansion and cooling, and atoms form and after many more billions of years gravitational forces pull them into stars and planets, and 13 (or so) billion years after the big asplosion a little blue planet pops out some plants and some animals, and after a few mass extinctions some bald, tail-less apes invent writing and decide that they were created in the image of an omnipotent and omnipresent God.

The only reasonable explanation I can think of for something as (currently) obviously whack as the creation myth to be "the Word of God" is if God is actually very smart and knew that ancient people couldn't handle the truth -- quarks and muons would have been utterly meaningless to every last one of them, so he did a cute little metaphor. Or some dude was divinely inspired in a wordless manner, and this is what came out. Or some dude was shrooming in a cave with some papyrus and thought "Hebrew" was a cool word. You know, whatever.

Also Genesis was written by a man. You know, bald, tail-less ape with a ding-a-ling. If the dominant group has to say that a vengeful god put them in charge to keep them dominant, they'll do it. Who's going to question divine inspiration?

I hope my future posts are shorter because I have E&M homework to get going on.

Some recommended reading (translation: great fiction that addresses religion!)
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, in that order.
  • Contact by Carl Sagan, which is science-y but WONDERFUL, especially the end. My favorite book of all time! Also a movie which is OK but not as awesome.
  • A multitude of other nonfiction/speculative books by Sagan, including The Demon-Haunted World and Dragons of Eden.
  • Paradise Lost by Milton.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams -- not really about religion, but it makes some great satirical points. And I loves it so :)


Carissa said...

Thanks for the great post. :) I have similar opinions on most of what you wrote. I especially liked how you described God as smart enough to know that early humans wouldn't understand the concepts of the Big Bang. I agree. Anyway, as a Christian myself (Methodist, even), I just wanted to say that I think the Bible shouldn't be taken as un-literally as you're implying. The Creation Story I obviously agree is allegory, but I think many other parts of the Bible SHOULD be taken literally--within the context of where/when/why/to whom they were written, that is. I won't go into detail here, but I just thought I'd share the idea to maybe get you thinking.

chrysaetos said...

I know who that profile picture is of...

Sarah M said...

yeah, you would..