I want to preface this with a bit of a non-sequitur as I have heard from a few folks that they are confused about some of previous posts given that I’m an atheist. The point of this blog so far has been to document my journey from Christianity to Atheism so a lot of these early posts will be written from my perspective as a doubting Christian (as best I can recall). Once I’ve finished the story of my journey, I will be continuing the blog from my current point of view; however, I think it’s important to share how I got from where I was to where I am now.
As I’ve alluded to in previous posts and as I’m sure many Christians with doubts about their beliefs have done, I started by reading my bible in its entirety to make sure I understood what was in it, what I was supposed to do, and how I could be certain that my faith was reasonable. Of course, the first story in the bible is the creation story. I was raised as a creationist–that is, that the creation story is literally true. In other words, there were a literal Adam and Eve, God literally spoke the universe and life into existence, and (perhaps most importantly, as we’ll see in a moment) that the story of original sin and the talking serpent literally occurred.
I am completely aware that many (or even most) Christians are not young Earth creationists. I am also aware that the vast majority of Christians in the world accept both evolution and creation to some extent. I say this to avoid the No True Scotsman fallacy and not to give the impression that I think all Christians believe the same way that I did. I am going to present my concerns with young Earth creation with the full understanding that most people reading this probably do not hold that view.
How could we possibly have any evidence of creation itself? The best we can do is examine what evidence we currently have available to us and use reliable methods to make hypotheses and try to falsify them. What would a supernatural creation look like? What evidence would we expect to find? Well, if the bible is taken literally, the Earth is only six thousand years old (give or take), so we should expect to find that nothing on Earth is older than that. Of course, radiometric dating (of which carbon dating is one of more than a dozen techniques) gives us a fairly good estimate of the age of most things we find in the world around us that conflicts with that notion. Much of the pioneering work done with radioisotope dating was done by young Earth creationists such as John Phillips attempting to prove that the biblical account was, in fact, literal. To their surprise they discovered that the data did not agree. The modern apologetic answer to this is to quote 2 Peter 3:8, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” In other words, the Genesis account is not a literal 24-hour day.
You could go on with the idea that somehow light was upon the Earth before the Sun was created or that water predated land or any of the other concerns that are sometimes raised in objection to a literal reading of Genesis. However, once you are open to the possibility that the length of a day in the Creation story might be metaphorical, it becomes more difficult to accept the rest must still be literal. For example, we can demonstrate that the Earth is not flat, that the firmament is not a solid barrier above the sky holding back water, and so on. We can also demonstrate the two human beings would not be sufficient to propagate the species. Of course, all of this can be dismissed by saying that God suspended the rules that he put in place to govern the way the universe works for a while and then, once it was no longer necessary to do so, he stopped and let physics and biology work again. That would be a claim for which we also could not possibly have evidence.
So what about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of eternal life? Whether it is meant to be literal or metaphorical, it seems clear to me that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the understanding of what is right and wrong. So how could Adam and Eve know that eating the apple was wrong before they did it? Even though God commanded them not to do so, how could they know that obeying him was right? If they could not, then God was punishing them for something they could not know was wrong. If they could, then what purpose did the tree serve? It was clear that eating the fruit did have an effect from the Genesis account because after eating it they immediately became aware of modesty.
Perhaps more disturbing, God tells Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Of course, they did not die and it seems that the serpent was the one telling the truth when it said “Ye shall not surely die.” This makes it seem like God lied to Adam. Furthermore, God is apparently worried that Adam and Eve had, “become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” In other words, God banished them from Eden because they knew the different between right and wrong and might also choose to become immortal. (As a side note, it was never clear to me what “one of us” was supposed to mean. Is there more than one God?) That last part is doubly damning for young Earth creationists who claim there was “no death before the fall” because it is clear that God banished them before they could become immortal.
Ultimately, the biggest concern for me was that God would punish someone for something they could not possibly comprehend was wrong and that if this story is only metaphorical then there would be no original sin for which Jesus would ultimately need to be sacrificed.