Friday, 8 August 2014

Bible as cosmological proof

This is a response to @No_drones on twitter. His tweet can be found here:

In an attempt to prove the veracity of the bible, @No_drones has said the following:

YWYH claims in the first sentence of the first book of His self-revelation to mankind, the Bible:

[Genesis 1:1 ESV] 1 In the beginning [time begins to exist], God created the heavens [space begins to exist] and the earth [matter begins to exist]. [square brackets mine]

Predictions that logically follow from this text:

[1] The universe began to exist. > VERIFIED
[2] Time began to exist. > VERIFIED
[3] Space began to exist. > VERIFIED
[4] Matter began to exist. > VERIFIED

Which is logically and scientifically supported by the following argument:

[1] Things that begin to exist have a cause outside of themselves for beginning to exist.

[2] The universe began to exist.

[3] The universe has a transcendent cause for beginning to exist.


The above argument is fatally flawed on a number of grounds.

1. It assumes that when Genesis says "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" it is referring to "space and matter". There are absolutely no grounds for this assumption. Likewise, the word "beginning" ("Re'shiyth" meaning "first") does not, on the face of it, denote the beginning of time (the bible does not say god created time) but the beginning of the creation process.

The words used for "heaven" and "earth" in the Hebrew Bible are (transliteration)  "Shamayim" and "'erets" respectively.

The former refers to the visible sky and atmosphere. The latter means "land, territory, country etc". NEITHER of the two words has any meaning that would even come close to "space" or "matter". To claim that they have those meanings is incorrect and, frankly, naive if not disingenuous.

2. The selected verse is an exercise in cherrypicking.

Genesis 1 goes on:

"2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.
3 God said, "Let there be light." And there was light!"

So there's no light. There's matter (on my my interlocutor's interpretation) and there's....water. If my opponent is correct in his interpretation, water is created before light. That's simply not correct.

What's more, once god creates light, God separates light from darkness, calling the darkness "night" and the light "day". And this is the evening, the end of the first day.

The first DAY? In a universe in which there's no planet earth? This simply can't be right.

But contrast this with a more literal interpretation; one where "earth" means "earth" (and not "matter") and "heaven" means "sky" (as it does!) What do we get then? We get a mythological account of creation of the earth (land) and of the sky. And we get light which marks the day on that land and darkness which marks night on earth. From the point of view of those who created the mythology this actually makes sense.

3.  There is nothing remarkable in speculating that the earth, the sky and time itself had a beginning.  I used to speculate that as a young child. In a world where everything we know of and observe has a beginning, it's intuitively sound to assume that the land and the sky had one too.

Likewise, it's difficult to imagine backwards infinity and there's nothing remarkable in speculating that time had a beginning.

After all, apologists often come up with philosophical arguments against infinite regression, based on that very intuition. To think that the same intuition would escape the ancient Jews (save for magical revelation from an existing god) is to deprive them of the human brain.

To claim that a culture's religious tradition is reliable (for its claims of deities and miracles etc) simply because the culture has intuited that the land and the sky (or even time) had a beginning makes no sense. MOST cultures have their creation myths, many claiming that their chosen chosen deity has created all that exists. Is my opponent claiming that all those gods are therefore true?

4. There's no scientific principle that "things that begin to exist have an outside cause". What we do observe is that there's causation which applies to TRANSFORMATION of matter and energy. That observation says nothing about the CREATION of either. Furthermore, causality as we know it is an observation made WITHIN our universe and there are no grounds to extrapolate it to a state where no universe exists at all. What my opponent is doing is ASSUMING that the law of causality applies to CREATION of matter and energy, that it applies OUTSIDE our universe and that it was the first law to have been "created". NONE of those three assumptions has any basis for it.

5. Finally, the Kalam (as this old Muslim argument is called) has other problems. It doesn't prove a god. At the very most it seeks to prove a special case First Cause. There's nothing to suggest that this First Cause was intelligent or even self-aware.

In conclusion, my interlocutor's claim of biblical accuracy has no legs. Firstly, he relies on an incorrect interpretation of the words used (effectively inventing meanings that the words do NOT have). Secondly, there's nothing remarkable or miraculous in making the intuitive assumptions that he claims (quite incorrectly) were made in the bible.

Thirdly, he relies on the Kalam which has a flawed premise and in any event only seeks to prove a first cause and not a self-aware god.

If this is what apologists rely on then they are indeed grasping at straws.

I will reply to the other parts of my opponent's tweet shortly, in separate posts.

Comments are welcome


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