How the Bible Goes Wrong: In the Beginning

"And god said, let there be an awkward two-legged naked ape that has the most impressive brain on the planet and still believes in absolute nonsense."

“And god said, let there be an awkward two-legged naked ape that has the most impressive brain on the planet and still believes in absolute nonsense.”

This is the first of at least five articles I plan to write about the specific reasons I cannot accept the bible as fully true or inspired by a god. I put a huge amount of time over several years into studying it, and my goal all along was to reach the deepest and most objective understanding as possible. If you want to know how it feels to write about this, imagine a white Southern Baptist writing a serious article examining why they personally stopped believing in Islam.

During the entire time I studied the bible, I was a Christian and had no intention to stop believing, only to find the truth no matter what it turned out to be. Thus, most of the things I will say in these articles are not the conclusions of a nonbeliever reading a bible he’s already decided is untrue, but rather the things I learned as a Christian that ultimately led me out of the religion.

These are the reasons I stopped believing. It has taken me almost a year to reach a point where I think I can articulate them clearly. I first had to admit to myself that I was no longer a Christian. Then I had to grow a little in my new position by discussing these issues with both Christians and non-Christians, listening to what they had to say, and thinking about how exactly to put my concerns into words that hopefully most people will understand.

To kick off the series, I will start in the beginning, with the bible’s account of creation and the next several chapters of Genesis.

In order to make a point, let’s have a short thought experiment. Let’s start from nothing, no worldview, no religion, no ideas about how we came to be or how old the universe is. Set it all aside for the moment. Imagine that you have no idea where we came from and you want to find the truth.

What is the first thing you must do? Well, it would help to define what truth is. I would say that truth is ideas and facts that correctly represent reality. But then you have to define what reality is, and that’s a little more difficult. I think it’s best defined as the existence we experience. The “absolute truth” could be that we are part of a virtual reality, but if that were the case it wouldn’t matter at all to our lives because we still experience it. What matters to us, and what we think of as reality, is what we experience. Thus, the truth we are looking for is the collection of ideas and facts that correctly represent the reality we experience.

Note that even to get this far, to merely define what my goal is, I have to make an assumption. I have to assume that the universe is objectively, absolutely real. In most cases we don’t care about the possibility that we’re part of a virtual reality, but when we’re talking about the concept of what might exist beyond the universe, it is important to acknowledge our limitations. The only way someone could legitimately claim to know the absolute truth is if they could prove that the universe is not simulated. Since we have no way to test, observe, or interact with anything that may be outside of the universe, it is currently impossible to determine the absolute truth about it.

So let’s set aside absolute truth and talk about the truth of the reality we experience. If we assume that what we experience is objectively real from any real or theoretical perspective, is it reasonable to believe the bible’s account of creation is accurate? I am addressing the literal interpretation here; I have no problem with interpreting it as a metaphorical legend.

There are several problems with a literal reading of the creation account in Genesis. If the whole bible is taken literally and used to calculate the age of the earth through the given genealogies, the upper limit is around 10,000 years. We can see light from objects so far away that it would take nearly fourteen billion years just for that light to reach us. That’s the distance the light traveled, not the distance the objects are from us at this moment. Because of the expansion of space, those objects are now much farther away than they were when they emitted the light we can see.

None of the explanations I’ve heard for how the universe could be young while appearing so old are reasonable. They would have to present a viable alternative to general relativity, and not even the astrophysicists working on a new theory to combine GR with quantum mechanics have figured it out yet. Perhaps this would be a good area for Christians who take the bible literally to research. If they could come up with an elegant theory of quantum gravity that also works with a 10,000 year old universe, and experiments validate the predictions implied by it, then they’d have a much stronger case. Currently all they have is wild speculation about things that maybe could’ve happened, and such speculation is no more likely to be true than speculation about universes forming inside black holes.

We have another problem with the age of the earth itself. Radioactive elements are a great way to determine the age of ancient things like rocks, because the decay of such elements happens at a constant rate. By looking at the ratio of the radioactive element to the resulting stable element it decays into, we can determine how long it must have been since the rock was formed (and since we know how rocks are formed, we know what its composition would’ve been in the beginning). The results from radiometric dating put the age of the earth at 4.54 billion years, plus or minus 0.05 billion. There are many other ways to determine that the earth must be far older than 10,000 years.

Again, the response given to refute these methods of dating is never actual science but wild speculation, often about how god could have created the earth to look old. This is no more likely to be true than speculation about the earth being created five minutes ago, and all our memories being filled in to make us think we’re much older than five minutes.

But what if we insert a gap between the first and second verses of Genesis, and assume god created the universe and then let it age for nearly fourteen billion years before creating life? Well, aside from the fact that Genesis claims everything else in the universe (the sun included) was created after plants arose on the earth, we have another problem with interpreting the rest of the creation story as literal. That problem is human genetics, which shows that it’s impossible for the current population of the earth to have arisen from a single pair of humans (or even from the eight humans who supposedly survived a worldwide flood). Whatever method you use for estimating the minimum population in humanity’s past, the number is at least a few thousand.

In fact, staying within the study of genetics, we can map out how we are related to modern apes, just as we can determine that two people are related by analyzing their DNA. The same goes for the remains of ancient apes and humans we have dug up all over the world. Then, if you bring in the massive amount of evidence from the rest of biology and paleontology, it’s obvious that all life on earth had a common ancestor. It’s simply so well supported, by every source of evidence, that it’s now essentially fact.

Contrary to the common claim that there are no transitional fossils, we do have a lot of fossils showing the transitions between various types of creatures. We have also observed and directly caused speciation. That is, with species being defined as a group of organisms capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. It’s quite difficult to divide organisms into distinct species because there are exceptions to most definitions and such division only makes sense in a small window of time. On a much larger scale, there is no clear delineation between one species and another descended from it, as they are connected by innumerable tiny alterations much like the unnoticeable daily changes of human aging.

So maybe god used evolution to create life. At this point, we’re interpreting the first nine chapters of Genesis as a metaphorical legend, because a literal interpretation is incompatible with human genetics and with evolution in general.

There is much more that could be said, for example the unique animals in Australia could not have gotten there from the Middle East, where Noah’s ark was supposedly grounded, and there is no evidence that such isolated animals have ever existed anywhere else in the world. The spread of animals after the biblical flood would not have resulted in such genetically distinctive creatures in isolated areas after such a short amount of time. But I’m trying to keep these articles from getting too long, so some things will have to wait. If there’s any particular issue you think I should address, feel free to mention it in a comment.

Next time we’ll look at the nature of the god portrayed in the bible, and consider whether or not such a god could exist and what evidence we might expect to see if he did.

There are five articles in this series:

Image: Desktop Nexus

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22 responses to “How the Bible Goes Wrong: In the Beginning

  1. Okay. Well, I agree with your assumption that what we experience is objectively real from any real or theoretical perspective.

    As far as light and general relativity, first of all, the fact that even astrophysicists haven’t completely figured out the way general relativity and quantum mechanics work together goes both ways. If they’re not sure, they can’t be sure that we’re wrong. Secondly (we actually got into a discussion of this in my sophomore level essential science class at college), assuming Einstein is right, the speed of light is the only constant in the universe. Only thing is, we express the speed of light in terms of time, which according to the same theory is not a constant. So from a physics perspective, we can’t talk about time in an absolute sense. All of which is to say that 14 billion years from our perspective may not be 14 billion years from the perspective of a star, and vice versa.

    As far as radiometric dating, that rests on assumptions, and Christians aren’t the only ones to point that out.

    “[R]adiometric dating relies on the principle that the isotope has remained in the object since its creation.” (http://www.tech-faq.com/radiometric-dating.html)

    “Radiocarbon dating is predicated on the assumption that the level of 14C in the sample at the time it entered the archaeological record is identical to the concentration of 14C in the atmosphere at the time and that these levels of both biosphere and atmosphere are consistent over the entire globe. It is now known that this is not the case,…” (http://kathybragg.co.uk/2014/01/13/discuss-the-strengths-and-weaknesses-of-two-of-the-following-archaeological-dating-techniques-radiocarbon-dating-dendrochronology-thermoluminescence-amino-acid-racemization-archaeomagnetic-dating/)

    When people did calculations for how many people could arise from two people, did they take into consideration the possibility that people may have lived longer, say, several hundred years longer?

    Concerning genetics, similarities wouldn’t have to mean that human beings are biologically related to each other. After all, if human beings and animals have the same Creator, that can account for similarities as well. Science can give us data, like similarities; it can’t interpret that data.

    As far as fossils, we all agree that we observe changes in fossils and even changes over time. I think the area of disagreement is whether there’s a limit. And that’s something that’s hard to prove or disprove one way or the other. By way of example, I heard of a man on the radio who theorized that one day man should be able to jump a mile in a second. His reasoning was that people have been able to jump longer and longer distances, so eventually man should progress to the point of making the entire mile-long jump in just a second. The problem with the theory is that it rests on the difficult-to-prove assumption that there’s no limit to the progress of our jumps. It’s the same thing with genetic changes. Just because we observe lots of lots of little changes doesn’t mean that there’s automatically no limit to them, no ceiling.

    Concerning animals moving from the Middle East to Australia, creationists and non-creationists alike agree that there’s a strong possibility that there was originally just one continent, and that everything has moved farther apart since then. It would have been easier for animals to move from one place to another if everything was closer together. Besides, what evidence are you looking for? Fossils? It’s not like every time an animal dies, it becomes a fossil.

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    • There have been several theories proposed that would unify general relativity and quantum mechanics…we’re just waiting on further discoveries to rule some out and hopefully establish one as an accurate representation of reality. There’s a difference between unifying the two theories and disproving them. General relativity represents reality, as confirmed by a century of experiments and observations. So unifying it with quantum mechanics should be more like taking a square and a rectangle that represent the same object, and explaining how that works by adding a third dimension to reveal a box which is square when viewed from one direction and rectangular when viewed from another.

      It’s true that different reference frames experience time at different rates. But we know how that works (even if we don’t know why), so your response doesn’t really make sense. Time dilation doesn’t make a difference here. The universe is billions of years old from our perspective. Of course, within the framework of general relativity time means something much different than how we think of it, but in the context of a human perspective you can’t get around the facts. I’m not even sure why you would want to…

      Regarding the minimum population in our past, I don’t think it matters how long people lived, because an individual’s genetic code doesn’t change. The estimations I found were based on the observed genetic diversity in the world today, which couldn’t come from a single mating pair…and certainly not within a few thousand years. Furthermore, ancient remains and fossils can show us how long people lived in the past. The answer: not very long.

      The genetic uniqueness of animals confined to islands doesn’t make sense without evolution. It isn’t just fossils, but the genetic heritage of the species. Populations that are isolated (like on an island) over time develop distinctly different DNA from their relatives in other parts of the world. For example, Homo floresiensis was a small humanoid about three feet tall living on an Indonesian island tens of thousands of years ago. Their size was probably a result of island dwarfism, just like the miniature elephants they hunted. Numerous isolated populations of animals on islands around the world are distinctly different from their cousins anywhere else in the world, while related species occupying the same area tend to have much more in common with each other.

      Radiometric dating: there are various different types using different elements. Each type is limited in how far back it can accurately measure, but they can be verified against other methods of dating within their effective time periods and are reasonably accurate. As I said, there are numerous ways to prove the earth is very old.

      There is a physical limit to how far and fast a human can jump. There is no physical limit to how DNA can be arranged. The only thing you need to change to turn a chicken into a dinosaur is the order of molecules in its DNA. This is how scientists have created chicken embryos with reptilian snouts and tails. They didn’t add information. They didn’t rewrite it. They merely TURNED OFF a gene that causes the beak to form. The result: the mouth of the chicken embryo developed into a snout with teeth. Like a dinosaur. Almost like it’s descended from an animal that had a snout and developed the beak later…

      And of course, you should know that it takes very little genetic change to produce a major physical change. You insist that a creator could account for the similarities in DNA, but you’re ignoring the fact that DNA within a species changes over time and it only takes small changes to produce very different biological results. So we have 1) observed cases of DNA changing enough to create a new species, and 2) a world populated by a lot of different species that have very similar DNA, differentiated by only relatively small changes. You’re basically insisting that even though we can observe and create different species through DNA changes, such changes aren’t responsible for the differences in species we already have…instead, you insist that the differences between existing species were coded into them by a god we have never observed.

      And rather than making it obvious that this coding was done by an intelligent creator, he apparently decided to make a huge mess of it. He would’ve had to put the same genetic code into multiple different types of animals, some of it completely useless, making it look like it was all haphazardly thrown together over millions of years of trial and error. He would’ve had to take genes that serve a purpose in one animal and put them into another animal that doesn’t need them, making it look like they share common ancestors. I’m sorry, what evidence do you have for this? I’ve got centuries of scientific research and data and testable explanations for how exactly it all works. All you have is “god could’ve done it”. Sure, but have you objectively demonstrated the reality of this god like we have objectively demonstrated the reality of speciation? Of course you haven’t, because you can’t. At this point you’re just doing the same wild speculation I already mentioned in the article.

      The continents couldn’t possibly have drifted apart in the time allowed by young earth creationism. That’s simply not how the earth works. Continental drift is just another piece of evidence in the massive collection of data that proves the earth is very, very old. The animals in Australia are unique because they were isolated from the rest of the world a very long time ago.

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      • I’m not trying to say we can disprove quantum mechanics. I’m just saying if I were a physicist, I would be very careful about dogmatically stating that something isn’t true since I don’t even have all the data. Just with the way science works, it’s hard if not impossible to absolutely prove a negative without absolutely proving a positive that’s incompatible. Also, I’m not convinced that the things that quantum mechanics has actually demonstrated or proved actually disprove a young earth; I think a young earth is compatible with quantum mechanics.

        You used the difference of the stars as proof of an old earth. But that doesn’t work as proof if time itself is different in space–or to be more accurate, different depending on the speed of the object. And I think light just might move a teeny bit faster than the earth moves. So if the light has been moving for several billion of its years, that wouldn’t have to mean it’s been several billion of our years.

        Evolution in its most basic sense simply means “change.” Nobody is denying “change.” Nobody is denying that there’s genetic diversity. What we’re denying is the idea that genetic diversity is the answer to everything. The genetic diversity we’ve observed doesn’t prove that molecules-to-man evolution (if you’ll excuse the inaccuracy of the term) is possible. You just said that changes came about because information is lost, or at least turned off. But in order for simple organisms to evolve into more complex organisms, there needs to be more than genes switching on and off. Is there a gene that prevents cell division, that, when turned off, would cause a one-celled amoeba to turn into a two-celled organism and so forth? (I know “turn into” probably isn’t the best phrase to use, but you get the idea.) How did the process even start? Also, it’s not enough for there to be changes; they have to be improvements. If these changes happen because information is lost, how is that an improvement? How or why is a beak an improvement on a snout? And again, the question is not just whether diversity occurs, but to what extent. What we call “big” changes may not be so big from a biological point of view.

        As far as useless features, there are a lot of features in the human body that people used to think were totally useless—such as the tonsils—that scientists now know do have a purpose. Just because people don’t know the purpose of a feature doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

        Again, the idea that similarities prove a common ancestor is just an assumption. We chose to assume that. It’s not somehow God’s fault. Even if you don’t like the idea of similarities because of a common Creator, how about similarities because we all live on earth? Even taking the theory of evolution, why would we all have to be related? Only certain features could survive on a planet with this temperature and atmosphere, so naturally there are similarities that result from the fact that we survived on this planet. So yes, of course we all see genetic changes. But you can’t insist that those changes are the be-all and end-all of proof, as if there couldn’t possibly be any other way to explain genetic changes and similarity except for wide-scale evolution.

        Furthermore, the fact that we can even observe genetic diversity proves that it can happen quickly. It doesn’t require billions and billions of years. So the animals in Australia wouldn’t have had to be there for billions of years. And scientifically, all you can say about the earth is what it’s doing now. You can’t say if could never have done anything different. If there was a time when, say, there were major geological changes, such as an unusual number of earthquakes, that would affect continental drift. There’s no way of proving that the continents have always moved apart at the same rate that they are now.

        See, for all of these things—stars billions of light years away, fossils, how far apart continents are—we all agree on the facts. Nobody is denying them. What we disagree on is the significance of those facts—what they mean and what they imply. The meaning of facts is something science can never prove. The conclusions we reach—whether they’re naturalistic or supernatural—are going to be at least somewhat based on assumptions. They have to be, simply because we’re finite human beings. If you discredit a religious belief because it requires some assumptions, then to be consistent, you have to discredit science as well.

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      • Scientific theories are the explanations for observed data that have been supported by experiments and information. We have the data, and use a theory to explain it. Then we create hypotheses of what else we might be able to observe if the explanation is correct. General relativity made several detailed predictions that have all been observed, and you can read about some of them here: http://discovermagazine.com/2015/april/12-putting-relativity-to-the-test

        You really don’t understand how time dilation works. We have used direct observations to calculate the precise length of time that the light we observe has been traveling, because while photons themselves do not experience time, they are moving through spacetime from the perspective of any object with mass. A certain amount of time will pass on any object with mass for a given distance that the light travels through space. When we talk about a light year, we mean the distance that light would travel while a year passes on earth. We observe light that has traveled a distance that would require over thirteen billion years to have passed from our perspective.

        Turning off genes isn’t the only way that evolution happens. I mentioned those genes because they were suppressing older reptilian genes in a chicken. Chromosomes tend to come in pairs, so they have two copies of the information. If one copy mutates, and the change it causes is beneficial to the survival and reproduction of the organism, then over a long period of time the descendants of the one with the mutation survive while those without the mutation die out (or adapt in other ways and keep going as a separate species). Viruses also contribute to DNA…so your amoeba that became multicellular might have been attacked by a virus that prevented it from disconnecting from its offspring as it reproduced asexually, and it turns out having two living cells connected together made them the biggest, strongest organism around. They became the apex predator of their world.

        Or if you want to know how single celled organisms became multicellular, ask the scientists who caused single-celled yeast to evolve into multicellular colonies within months simply by subjecting them to an environment that favored the existence of larger clumps of cells.

        “Just because people don’t know the purpose of a feature doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”
        I wasn’t actually talking about useless physical features (which are a whole other issue that I sort of mentioned in the last article of this series), but rather little bits of DNA found in different animals that serve a function in some and are totally unused in the others. Why would an intelligent creator stick a specific gene in two completely different animals, when only one of them actually uses it? Is he trying to trick us into believing those animals are genetically related through a common ancestor? Because that’s a hell of a lot more reasonable than assuming an all powerful god who cannot be observed.

        There are certainly shared features that are not from common ancestors. It’s called convergent evolution. Two different branches of animals faced similar challenges and adapted in similar ways. It happens all the time. But common ancestry of various species is not an assumption. It’s a fact because we have caused evolution, and we can connect many species by tracing their DNA back to remains of their ancestors. DNA can last nearly seven million years. The entire human family (Homo) is younger than that. We diverged from apes only a few million years ago, and we have found remains of other human species, some of which we are descended from, some related branches that died out, and a couple related species that our ancestors interbred with called Neanderthals and Denisovans (from whom most people inherit up to a few percent of their DNA).

        “There’s no way of proving that the continents have always moved apart at the same rate that they are now” – This is false. So completely false. As continental plates move, they run into others. At those places, mountains form. Volcanic activity and other forces on land add layers and layers of rocks. Some of them require extremely long periods of time to form. Some of them are formed in a unique way that we can observe today, so radiometric dating works because we can account for all the variables. The history of continental drift is built into mountains, and the plates spreading apart from each other etch their history in stone…literally. Furthermore, we know the process that causes the movement of continental plates and there’s definitely a speed limit.

        Are you sure we agree on the facts? Because you really don’t seem to understand what they are. You’re just repeating arguments from ignorance over and over.

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      • The article you linked was merely attempting to prove general relativity. Again, that’s not what I’m disputing; I’m disputing whether general relativity contradicts what the Bible says.

        Yes, from our perspective, it would take thirteen billion years for light to reach us. But earth isn’t what we’re talking about; we’re talking about light. Thus, light could take thirteen billion years to travel, just like scientists have calculated. But it would be thirteen billion years for the star, not for earth. And again, it’s awkward trying to talk about time and light, because time isn’t constant and yet light is. We define the speed of light—a constant—in terms of time, which is not constant. Can you not see something just a little bit wrong with that? I know when discussing most topics it doesn’t make any difference, but when it comes to talking about the age of the earth in light (pardon the pun) of the distance a star travels, there’s a problem, because the rate of time is different.

        If a virus causes mutations, where did the first virus come from? And it’s all well and good to make an environment that favors the existence of larger clumps of cells, but is there any evidence that such an environment actually existed? It’s somewhat ironic for scientists to perform experiments in an attempt to prove that something happened naturally and without intelligence. The scientist who did the experiment with single-celled yeast used his intelligence to manipulate the environment. That’s not “natural.”

        As far as parts of DNA, that reaches the limits of my current knowledge, so I’m not going to pretend that I’m not totally stabbing in the dark here, but could unused DNA be a result of genetic mutation? Because genetic mutation is a lot more likely to cause problems or create something useless rather than making an improvement. I don’t know if that’s the way DNA works, but I thought I’d throw the idea out there.

        As far as evolution, causing it doesn’t prove that it happened naturally. Besides, that goes back to dating methods. Maybe there are close relations between us and these supposed “other creatures” because they’re just plain human beings and they lived much more recently that “only” a few million years. We can analyze DNA and say, “it’s an XX percent match”, but that can’t in and of itself prove just how closely we’re related or how long ago certain creatures lived. Besides, even evolutionists say that high percentages of the same DNA sometimes mean relatively minor similarities. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-does-being-99-percent-chimp-mean-180955645/?no-ist

        Concerning layers of rocks, that just takes us back to dating methods. And to uniformitarianism, a key assumption of evolution which is impossible to prove or disprove.

        I’m not disputing general relativity (even though everyone still calls it a theory rather than an established scientific law). I’m not disputing that stars are billions of light years away and that we can see their light. Furthermore, we both agree that time is different in different places, that scientists have uncovered fossils with minor changes in them, that there are many, many, layers of rocks, and that scientists have done experiments in which single-celled organisms have multiplied. In short, I’m not disputing the things people have genuinely observed. I’m just disputing the idea that the one and only sensible conclusion to draw from the things people have observed is a completely naturalistic and atheistic one. And a line of reasoning is always more complex and therefore more open to question than a simple fact.

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      • General relativity and the other established theories of physics contradict young earth hypotheses. The evidence is clear: the earth and the universe are very, very old. I linked the article simply to show you that scientific theories are things that do represent reality, and conclusions based on them (like the universe being billions of years old) are not assumptions, but rather observable reality. The only assumption I must make to believe the universe is billions of years old is that what we observe is an accurate representation of reality. The only way you could challenge the age of the universe is to prove that what we observe is NOT an accurate representation of reality.

        The thirteen billion years would pass for both the star that emitted the light AND on earth (or in the region of space where earth would eventually form). The photons of light themselves would experience no time. Your response to this point further establishes your lack of understanding about the nature of time dilation. If we say something is thirteen billion light years away, what we mean is that thirteen billion years have passed ON EARTH (or the space where earth is) since the light we observe now was emitted from that object. If you say you agree that an object is thirteen billion light years away, you are agreeing that thirteen billion years have passed on earth (or the space where earth is) since the light we observe now was emitted from that object. A light year is a subjective measurement defined by our local time.

        You missed the point of the yeast experiment. A simple change in the environment caused the yeast to evolve. It doesn’t matter that the change was caused by a scientist, because environmental changes happen all the time without human intervention. In the case of the yeast, they were put in an environment where large clumps of cells had an advantage. It takes almost no imagination at all to think of situations in the natural world where larger clumps of cells would be more likely to survive. The result in the natural world would be the same as in the laboratory…evolution. Your objection fails by assuming a human-caused environmental factor wouldn’t happen naturally. Since environmental factors just like the ones imposed by the scientists happen naturally and change naturally all the time, your argument is simply invalid.

        What I mean about unused DNA is that, in basically every single animal, you can match genes in its DNA to identical ones in other species. A gene is a long sequence of molecules that provides the information for a specific biological process. They are pretty universal…the gene that controls the development of the hand in human embryos, the end of the wing in chicken embryos, and the pectoral fins in fish…is the exact same gene.

        So imagine that you find such a gene that serves a purpose in one animal, but is deactivated in another (say, a gene for developing a snout with teeth which is deactivated in chickens and overpowered by the gene for developing a beak). Why would an intelligent creator give the gene for developing a reptilian snout to animals with beaks, so it just sits there as an unused part of the genome? It seems like such a creator would be intentionally trying to make it look like animals are descended from a common ancestor, because you can find such inactive genes in probably every animal that exists, linking them to other animals. Since we have reliably proven that different species can arise from a common ancestor (proven both by observation of natural speciation and human-caused speciation), rejecting a common ancestor as an explanation for these shared genes requires a better explanation. But yours, that an intelligent creator did it, completely fails to explain the obviously haphazard and unintelligent nature of how DNA is arranged and used. If modern animals are not descended from common ancestors, why do they share so much DNA that many of them don’t even need?

        Genetic mutations are most commonly negative, but not always. For example, all humans used to become lactose intolerant in adulthood, but a single mutation allowed a population in Europe to arise that remained able to digest lactose into adulthood. That is why most Europeans can eat dairy, while most Asians are lactose intolerant.

        You should learn more about genetics and geology before you try to argue against the facts they have established, because I think you’ll find every single objection you could raise has already been answered. You are arguing against isolated facts by ignoring the huge collection of related data that is required to form the whole picture. It’s like you’re looking at a handful of pixels, and then trying to make claims about the entire image that would be proven false by the additional data you’d gain if you zoomed out a little. For example, layered rocks. By examining the rock, we can figure out how it was formed. Some of them take a very long time to form. If they took less time, they would be different. You can’t rely on arguments from ignorance when the thing you claim we “don’t know” is actually known. You say we don’t know that a certain rock formed a certain amount of time ago, yet we can make observations using several different methods that all establish the age of the rock. You pretty much have to assume that god designed everything to make it look very old even though it isn’t, in which case you’d be proposing a deceitful god who intentionally left us overwhelming evidence that is contrary to reality.

        I haven’t even claimed that the only sensible conclusion is completely naturalistic and atheistic. I’m not even an atheist in that sense. You are free to speculate an intelligent origin for the universe, for life itself, and I’d have to say you could be right. But evolution is still a real thing, and the earth is still 4.5 billion years old, and the creation account in Genesis is still a human-invented myth.

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      • I think we’re viewing science in two very different ways. I’m all for observing things and I like science, but I don’t think it’s as absolute or as all-encompassing as you make it sound. For one thing, something like the age of the earth can’t be proved 100% scientifically, because we can’t observe the actual age. We interpret observable features as being indicative of age, but there’s always the possibility of being wrong. I’m not saying that to discredit science, but merely as a protest against dogma.

        Likewise, we can study genes, DNA, and fossils now, in the present, but we didn’t actually observe animals millions of years ago. No matter what we believe about the past, we have to make guesses and inferences, because we weren’t there. It’s just part of being finite. We can’t escape it.

        To say that the Bible absolutely cannot be true if interpreted literally because science has absolutely disproved it is—not the way science works. Unless you have video footage that takes place over millions of years, scientists have to work with assumptions. They may be assumptions based on what they observe, but they’re still assumptions, beliefs that by definition (of the word assumption) they haven’t conclusively proved. So you’re working with likelihoods and maybes, not absolutes.

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      • Of course we can’t be 100% sure. I’ve written about that several times, including this quote from my article titled A Search for Truth: “Everything you ever know must be filtered through your perception, which is limited and flawed. We tend to ignore this, and work within a “probably not true” to “probably true” scale, and then act like the things on the ends of that scale are absolutes.”

        But the way you are attempting to use this uncertainty in your favor is contrary to evidence and self-defeating. You might as well claim the universe was created five minutes ago. Sure, all the evidence from the physical world and our own memories indicates that the universe is older than five minutes. But god could give everyone fake memories and make everything look older. How do you know you actually existed more than five minutes ago? Can you go back in time to verify it? See, I can have a crazy unfalsifiable hypothesis too…that doesn’t mean anyone should take it seriously without evidence.

        So you’re right, we cannot be 100% certain of the age of the earth, just like we can’t be 100% certain that the universe is even real. However, all of the evidence indicates that it’s real, and that it’s billions of years old. If you want to dispute an established theory, an argument from ignorance isn’t going to cut it. If you want to dispute evolution, claiming that the evidence could’ve been put there supernaturally by a god isn’t going to cut it. It’s as much of an assumption as claiming the universe is five minutes old and all our memories were created supernaturally.

        Your problem is that you’re arguing against theories that are based on evidence and shaped by many decades of experiments that continually confirm the truth of the theory…and you’ve got nothing but wild speculation based on no evidence and backed up by no experiments. If you want to refute a theory that has been continually supported by overwhelming evidence from every branch of science by people from every belief system all over the world for decades, you’ll have to come up with another theory that explains all of the evidence just as well, and can be tested, and which makes predictions that would validate it and falsify the previous theory. That’s how science works.

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      • If I were trying to prove that the Bible is true and the world is six or ten thousand years old, then you would be right; I would be making a poor argument. But I’m responding to your original post. You said you can’t accept a literal account of Creation because of the age of the earth, the age of fossils, and the evidence for evolution.

        I’m trying to argue that all of those put together aren’t as sure or as accurate as scientists like to make it sound. We could use the phrase “true beyond reasonable doubt.” It’s true beyond reasonable doubt that you and I exist. I would agree it’s true beyond reasonable doubt that light travels at a certain, constant speed. It’s true beyond reasonable doubt that there are certain genetic differences between animals of the same species. If I were arguing against those scientific facts, I would be arguing against science itself.

        But what I’m disputing is the implications of those things we all observe and believe. You said scientists come up with theories based on evidence, which is true. But the problem is that the experiments don’t necessarily confirm the theory, even if the results are what the scientists predict. For example, according to evolutionary theory, we would expect to see similarities between organisms, because we all descended from the same stuff. And lo and behold, scientists have found similarities. But the similarities could just as easily be because a god created them. Or aliens seeded them. Or because we’re all part of the same World Soul.

        And all science can do is say, “yep, there’s this similarity; yep, there’s that one. Nope, this isn’t similar; oh look, these two organisms are similar, but they’re different from that one over there.” But no matter how many experiments they do, and how many times they can say, “this and this and this are similar”, they can’t say why. There’s no way of proving or disproving any of the theories by scientific experiment.

        That doesn’t mean we should pick whatever theory floats our boat and stick to it because science can’t disprove it. It means we should look to something other than science for the truth about things like who we are and where we come from.

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      • “There’s no way of proving or disproving any of the theories by scientific experiment.”

        False. Just…plain, flat-out false. Assuming that you mean “prove” in the sense of “show to be true beyond reasonable doubt”, scientific experiments are precisely how we prove or disprove theories. In fact, in science you don’t call something a theory unless it has been shown to be true beyond reasonable doubt by carefully controlled and peer-reviewed experiments. Otherwise it’s a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a possible explanation for a body of evidence that hasn’t been thoroughly tested yet. A theory is an explanation for a body of evidence that has been tested rigorously and has held up without being disproven.

        It would be very easy to disprove evolution if it was false. Simply find a fossil in the wrong rock layer, and you destroy the whole thing. Unfortunately for you, nobody has ever done it, which is why you’re reduced to hypotheses nobody can even test (which makes them worthless), and this silly argument that somehow your theoretically possible yet untestable hypothesis is on equal standing as a scientific theory that is both testable and has been confirmed by all legitimate tests performed so far.

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      • I was using theory in the more every-day, less scientific sense of the word. It’s true that in the scientific world, a theory is something a little more certain than a wild guess.

        But the rock layer thing is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Everyone agrees that only certain fossils are in certain rock layers. Nobody is saying that suddenly, after observing thousands and thousands of fossils and rock layers, we’re going to discover something radically different and unexpected (though I suppose it’s always possible). But when we see certain fossils in certain rock layers, all that proves is that certain fossils are in certain rock layers! Sure, it could mean that every layer is separated by millions of years, and that the reason we don’t find fossils in the “wrong” layer is that the animals they came from had died out thousands of years earlier. But how can anyone scientifically prove that? Because the simple and undeniable fact of fossils only being in certain rock layers doesn’t—can’t—explain why.

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      • False again. Well, you’re correct that the mere fact of fossils existing in different rock layers by itself doesn’t say much. But that’s not what I said. I said that evolution could be easily disproven by finding a fossil in the “wrong” place, and that’s because we know some things:

        -We know how certain types of rocks form
        -We know how long it takes them to form
        -We know how to determine how long it has been since they formed
        -We know things about the atmospheric conditions long ago from studying rocks and the fossils they contain
        -We know what sort of conditions would be required to sustain the sorts of life we find
        -We can piece together a timeline of the changing conditions on earth that shaped the life we find in the fossil record
        -We know how and why most of those changes happened, and how long they took to happen (example: the increase in oxygen levels that allowed the existence of giant insects was caused by the proliferation of plants, but that much oxygen would be harmful or deadly to many other animals, including humans, so a huge reduction in atmospheric oxygen would be required after that era to allow the existence of animals we find later in the fossil record.)

        I could go on and on. If you consider everything together instead of cherry-picking one type of data and then claiming we can’t know anything, you get a much more complete picture, and a rough narrative of the earth’s history arises naturally from the evidence. I feel like I’ve already explained this to you enough. The young earth theory has been thoroughly disproven via many different sources of information, and insisting otherwise is ignorant. I mean, the giant insects and their 30% oxygen atmosphere are enough to prove that life was around a long, long time before humans showed up. To say nothing of the many different life forms that followed them as the earth’s climate changed.

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      • I agreed with you that finding a fossil in the “wrong” place would dis-prove evolution; I just disagree that the absence of fossils in the “wrong” place proves that evolution is true. You said there are lot of things that we know, but a lot of those things are merely semi-educated guesses based on assumptions. The whole dating system is based on assumptions: assumptions about what the atmosphere was like, the assumption that if something takes XX amount of time to form now, nothing could possibly have caused it to form more quickly, the assumption that many layers can’t form quickly (despite clear observable evidence to the contrary, as in the case of Mount St. Helens), etc. In fact, most of evolutionary theory—however you want to interpret the word theory—is based on the unprovable assumption of uniformitarianism.

        I looked up “giant insects” and I came to a 2011 National Geographic article. I know scientists may have done more research since then, but as of 5 years ago, the language they used was very tentative, full of “maybe” and “we think”. Scientists are good at sounding dogmatic, but if you dig enough, it often doesn’t hold up any better than religious dogma does.

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      • I didn’t say that the absence of fossils in the wrong place proves evolution is true. I was merely giving you an example of how easy it would be to disprove evolution. There are plenty of other ways to do it as well. Since nobody has managed to disprove it for over 100 years, and we have observed it happening, and every test it has been subjected to has confirmed it, I consider it proven to the same extent as general relativity–that is, the theory reflects reality to a high degree of accuracy.

        Scientists have raised insects in environments with higher oxygen levels and they grew bigger than normal. While there are probably more aspects to study, the phenomenon is pretty well understood. The size of insects and other animals like them is limited by atmospheric oxygen content because of how their circulatory systems work.

        Rock layers that are formed quickly are different from ones that form slowly. Why is this so hard to understand? Yes, rocks can form quickly, but then we would know because they would be different.

        We don’t have to assume what the atmosphere was like because we can make direct observations of evidence that tell us the composition of the atmosphere, at least to some level. Ice cores drilled in the Arctic and Antarctic can show us layer after layer of yearly snowfall, compaction, and melting, going back at least tens of thousands of years, and analysis of the ice can tell us many things about the atmosphere of the past. Rocks tell a similar story.

        See also: https://ageofrocks.org/100-reasons-the-earth-is-old/

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      • Nobody has dis-proved the idea of God, either. Or unicorns. Or the idea that we are all created 10 minutes ago with memories of things that never happened. (Now, where have I heard that idea before? 🙂 )

        When you say we’ve observed evolution happening, what are you saying we’ve observed? We’ve certainly observed changes in organisms. But we haven’t observed an ape giving birth to something less ape-like giving birth so something less ape-like giving birth to a human. Because it purportedly happens over millions of years, it’s impossible to observe it. How can scientists say they’ve scientifically proved that something happened over millions of years ago when they didn’t set up an experiment that lasted millions of years?

        Same thing with rocks. Since nobody has observed rocks changing over millions of years, how can anyone know what rocks would look like over millions of years? What then do they say that rocks which are thousands of years old would look like, and how do they know that? Sure, people can make educated guesses, but how is that science? How can you prove by observable, repeatable experimentation that something happened over millions of years? We have no choice but to extrapolate it from the things we can observe. It’s okay; it’s not necessarily bad reasoning; but it’s simply inaccurate to portray that form of reasoning as being uniquely scientific or uniquely unbiased. It rests on assumptions, just like the basic logic syllogism rests on the truthfulness of its premises. Having to make assumptions is part of being finite, and science isn’t immune to that.

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      • Of course nobody has disproven god, unicorns, or the universe having been created ten minutes ago…because those things have no supporting evidence in the first place. Thus, the default position is “I don’t know” (or if they contradict established theories that are backed up by evidence, “probably not”), and it’s up to the people making those claims to back it up with evidence. However, evolution is a different matter entirely because its claims have been thoroughly backed up by enormous mountains of evidence. In order to replace it with a different theory, you have to explain everything that evolution explains, AND you have to do so better than evolution does, AND you have to also predict things that would prove your hypothesis right, things that wouldn’t happen if evolution was true. I explained all of that already; it’s the scientific method. Claiming your hypothesis is on the same level as evolution just because “nobody’s disproven either of them yet” is asinine. The difference is that yours has zero evidence backing it up, while evolution has all the evidence backing it up. I hope you understand how ridiculous it is to compare disproving evolution to disproving god.

        We have observed populations of animals splitting into separate species via genetic changes over time. That is the definition of evolution. What you are arguing against is that those genetic changes could, over very long periods of time, result in larger and more visible changes than the subtle ones we observe over short periods of time. Why? There is no logical reason for it. Your division of animals into “kinds” is completely arbitrary and unnatural. And, again, DNA makes it pretty obvious how different “kinds” of animals are related. You look at the DNA of myself and my brother and you can tell that we are related. Look at the DNA of myself and any other person, you can tell that we’re the same species. Look at the DNA of myself and a Neanderthal, and you can tell that we’re closely-related but separate species (in fact our ancestors mated with Neanderthals). Look at the DNA of myself and a chimpanzee, and you can tell that we’re related species. At what point do you draw the line, and why should the line be where you claim it is?

        People used to think that Australian aborigines were a different species because they look so different. Look at the immense variety of humans. You’re saying you believe all of this variety came from a single mating pair (which is even more ludicrous on a young-earth timeline), yet you refuse to accept that a population of millions of apes could develop different characteristics over time? It’s the exact same thing. Evolution gave me the ability to digest dairy, because someone in Europe long ago had a mutation that let them digest lactose into adulthood. Evolution made my skin pale because my ancestors lived in northern climates where dark skin would be inadequate for Vitamin D production. I know you accept all this. You creationists call it “microevolution”, as if it’s somehow a different process from the process that over much longer periods of time turned a certain population of apes into taller, smarter, hairless apes. But it isn’t, and if you study animals with much shorter lifespans, you can prove it by observing the rise of new species that are genetically different and unable to mate with their parent species. You really need to educate yourself on the subject if you want to be taken seriously in your objections.

        Not every aspect of studying old rocks is defined by assumptions. Yes, we make a few minor assumptions in order to do certain things, but we don’t stop there. We back up those assumptions by comparing their results to the results obtained with an entirely different method that relies on entirely different assumptions. For example, look at this article about how ice cores, lake sediments, ocean sediments, stalagmites, varves, and more all agree on the date of a cold period in the North Atlantic 8200 years ago: https://ageofrocks.org/2015/10/16/holocene-cold-snap-boreal-cooling-age-of-the-earth/

        Also, please read my latest article (this one: https://castinglargeshadows.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/dunning-kruger-evangelicals-and-donald-trump/), and the article about varves that I linked in it. Varves are essentially undeniable proof that young earth creationism is nonsense…unless you’re so closed-minded that you refuse to even understand the evidence. Most of your problem, it seems, is that you simply do not know what the evidence IS in the first place. I had that same problem back when I was a young earth creationist. Then I discovered that my science education had omitted huge amounts of information in favor of perpetuating long-debunked lies.

        Now go forth and educate yourself. Please. This would be a much better discussion if you at least understood the evidence you’re trying to argue against. Or…you might do what I did and accept the implications of the evidence because there’s no way to explain it in the context of young earth creationism.

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      • The reason I brought up the whole thing with unicorns and the universe being created ten minutes ago was in response to your statement that I couldn’t find a fossil in the “wrong” place, thus disproving evolution. Whether one is talking about evolution, God, or unicorns, it doesn’t make sense to prove a negative. We all disprove things simply by pointing out that the evidence in favor of them isn’t strong enough. That’s what you’re doing in your article. You’re saying that there’s insufficient evidence—in fact, you’re saying that there’s no evidence—for Creation and that there’s ample evidence for evolution. I’m not questioning whether the evidence itself—the things we all observe—is true; I’m questioning whether the evidence points to what you claim it points to.

        You know, it’s fine to say metaphorically, “evidence says” or “science says”, but if you try to take that literally, it’s simply inaccurate. Evidence doesn’t say anything on its own; it has to be interpreted by human beings. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, we can’t function as a society without it. But we can’t give the same weight to our interpretation of evidence, which can be very subjective, that we give to the objective, scientifically testable evidence itself.

        As far as rocks, assumptions supported by more assumptions in a different area supported by still more assumptions still don’t make up hard scientific proof. It can’t substitute for observation. If nobody observed the ice core forming, scientists can’t speak with certainty on how it formed, because scientists are only observing in the present after it’s already formed. The same thing applies to varves. Scientists can’t know that varves were laid down millions of years ago because they weren’t there to observe it. They can only make semi-educated guesses based on their presuppositions.

        As far as genetic changes, I don’t believe I ever used the word “kind”. And again, you’re asking me to prove a negative. How can anyone scientifically prove that something doesn’t happen? The burden of proof has to be on the person making a positive statement. It remains true that nobody has ever observed apes becoming humans, or anything close to that. And no, it’s not enough to show genetic change; there has to be consistent, positive genetic change. When scientists study these animals with shorter life spans, do they observe consistent improvements caused by mutations? I mean, an inability to mate with one’s parents is an interesting occurrence, but it’s hardly a biological advantage.

        As far as going forth and educating myself, I’m in college and in the process of educating myself, (though I’m not a science major). But if I were to educate myself in the way you’re thinking of, where would you recommend I start? What book(s) would you recommend?

        In the meantime, I think part of the reason we’re having so much difficulty discussing evidence is that you’re operating under the assumption of uniformitarianism, the idea that if we observe something happening in a certain way at a certain rate now, that same thing has always happened, and it’s always happened in the same way at the same rate we currently observe. You’re not even attempting to offer proof for that, but all your evidence is based on that assumption.

        Also keep in mind, I’ve not seriously offered any evidence for my position yet, because that wasn’t where we started. If I wanted to prove that God is real and the Bible is true, I would start from a completely different place, and I would be raising entirely different questions. This whole thing is a response to your initial post in which you appealed to science to disprove a literal reading of Genesis. I could have countered by offering scientific evidence in favor of a young earth and a universal flood and detailing problems with an older earth and with evolution, but I didn’t. I instead chose to focus on the inherent limitations of the scientific evidence and even the scientific method when it comes to things that happened long ago, be they hundreds, thousands, or millions of years ago. You’ve responded to my pointing out those limitations by offering more and more evidence saddled with the very same limitations.

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      • Your entire argument is essentially “nothing can be known unless we directly observe it”, and you are wrong.

        You’re wrong. Simple as that. My position is absolutely not based on uniformitarianism, but rather on making precise observations and verifying them against other known facts. Every objection you make misses the point so completely that there is no reason to continue. Your argument is like looking at an adult person and claiming nobody can know if they were ever a baby because you didn’t observe them growing up.

        Look at the evidence, instead of blindly ignoring it as you must be doing in order to make so many arguments that are directly contradicted by the evidence itself, and reach your own conclusions.

        I’m done.

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  2. This is very interesting. Looking forward to read more of your thoughts on the subject.
    I’ve been having my doubts for a while now, just clinging to my Christianity because it’s the one thing in my life that’s stable and that hasn’t changed… but I suppose it would be prudent to explore other possibilities to a further extent.

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    • I have two more posts already written, coming out next Monday and Thursday. There’s so much to say that I’m having trouble packing it all in. There will undoubtedly be more posts in the future to address the gaps in these ones.

      You’re right where I was a little more than a year ago. Stability is comforting, for sure.

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  3. You can’t expect to get at the truth if you use strictly empirical methods to examine something that is by definition outside of our sensory grasp. Sure you can deny there is a world of “spirit” because you can’t see it or test it and you can claim there is no God because he won’t dance a jig in front of you in your living room but you can’t prove your beliefs because God is neither provable nor un-provable by the means you limit yourself to. Which explains why you can only view the Bible in a literal way; it’s like telling a geneticist that he can’t look at DNA or duct taping a runners feet together and then criticizing them for being ineffective. You’re going to remain frustrated as long as you continue to not see that the rationalist and empirical method can only answer simple HOW questions and that faith, philosophy, the Bible, and God are all about WHY questions.

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    • Your comment that god “won’t dance a jig” in front of me is a pitiful and fallacious attempt at reductio ad absurdum and quite irrelevant to the subject of this article. I’ll get into the nature of god and the “why” questions another time; this article is solely about whether the evidence of the real world is compatible with a literal reading of the first nine chapters of Genesis. Try to remain relevant to what’s being discussed if you want to be taken seriously.

      You seem to have mistaken my approach to refuting the literal interpretation of the bible as only being able to view it literally. I thought I made it quite clear that you can interpret it in other ways, and those ways can be consistent with the evidence.

      One of the most popular arguments for the existence of a god takes what we know about the natural world, empirical evidence and all, and attempts to explain the need for a god by claiming such a being is the best rational explanation for our existence. It’s reasonably sound, though unprovable, but it can only lead to a generic idea of a supernatural being, not the Christian god specifically. In fact, I find it enough reason at the moment to call myself an agnostic deist.

      But here you are, rejecting empirical evidence and rationality. Why? Because it doesn’t support Christianity. It’s a common evasive tactic to make the religion unfalsifiable; if the evidence and reason shows that the bible is wrong, you can’t accept it because you’ve already decided that the bible is true. Therefore, evidence and reason must be wrong. This is a terrible way to find the truth, and if scientists had taken the same approach we would still be in the Dark Ages.

      Finally, I’m not frustrated at all. I just wrote an article about why I’m far more happy and peaceful after leaving Christianity. Perhaps you would be interested to read a little more rather than making false assumptions and fallacious claims about my motives and reasoning.

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