Monday, February 22, 2010

The Genesis Enigma

crap-o-la [krap-oh-luh]

1. Slang: Sometimes Vulgar.
a. nonsense; drivel.
b. falsehood, exaggeration, propaganda, or the like.
Synonyms: The Genesis Enigma, by Andrew Parker.

I'm a sucker for punishment. Why else would I pick up the book The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible Is Scientifically Accurate from the library? I admit that I was somewhat intrigued by the back cover blurb, which said that it was "Jaw-dropping... an astounding work which seeks to prove that the ancient Hebrew writers of the book of Genesis knew all about evolution - 3000 years before Darwin." OK, the quote was from the Daily Mail, not a publication known for its rigorous scientific standards, but still...

I first realized what I was in for while reading Chapter 1: Truth: The Old Testament as Factual Record. Parker devotes most of the chapter discussing the early archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia. He points out things like the Merneptah Stele, the earliest evidence of Israel's existence outside the Bible, and discoveries of Woolley and Lawrence and others (Ur, Nineveh, capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, etc). His conclusion: "Having seen now the weight of archaeological evidence for the historical truth of the Bible... Uh, excuse me, Mr. Parker?? Because you can muster a smattering of archaeological findings that corroborate certain Biblical events, that is enough to say that the "weight of evidence" says that it is historically accurate?? Why did you ignore the weight of evidence that argues against a global flood, against a single language in Bavel (pre-dispersion), against a single couple as the progenitor of all humans less than 6000 years ago? No, a real scientist might say that "archaeological evidence shows that certain passages in the Bible reflect a knowledge of the times", but there is NO way that the weight of evidence shows that it is historically true.

The rest of the book was skimming material after I realized the pattern: devote the vast majority of the material to a discussion of scientific matters, such as the Big Bang, geology, and evolution (and their historical development), and sneak in a paragraph or two about the creation account, making an attempt to correlate the opening chapter of Genesis with our current scientific knowledge. In addition, the author is fond of seemingly irrelevant segues, such as his brief interlude to discuss human-caused ecological destruction in the chapter on birds (he states that one should not think that the Bible will solve this problem, and no amount of prayer will correct out behavior toward the environment.)

To save you the time (and pain) of reading the book, here is how he attempts to correlate the account of creation with modern science:

1) Let there be light. This chapter discusses the history of the geocentric and heliocentric models, Newtonian and Einsteinium physics, and the Big Bang. Parker says that the ancient Israelites behind the Genesis account of creation give an order of events that is surprisingly accurate, scientifically. But, says Parker, beginning the story with the formation of the sun 5 billion years before present (YBP) makes "intuitive sense" and might not seem remarkable.

2) The formation of the seas and the emergence of dry land. Parker gives a brief history regarding various estimates of the age of Earth, the work of geologists Hutton and Lyell, the principle of uniformitarianism, how Fleming struck a blow against the notion of a universal deluge, the gradual acceptance of an ancient earth, and the early geologic history of Earth. The separation of land and sea (approx. 4.2 billion YBP) are found in their correct sequence in Genesis. But again, says Parker, "the story may seem rather predictable so far".

3) Life begins! The earth brings forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit trees. Parker discusses Gosse, Darwin and Wallace, then focuses briefly on theories of abiogenesis. Which leads us to the beginning of cyanobacteria 3.6 billion YBP. But cyanobacteria are not mentioned in Genesis, Parker states with wonder! That's because the ancient Israelites would have been oblivious to single-celled life forms. However, plants are photosynthetic just like cyanobacteria - and indeed the former incorporated the latter to do just that. So it is appropriate that plants are mentioned in the third state of creation.

4) Lights to divide day from night. The author of Genesis already covered the appearance of the sun, and so Parker does not accept that this event refers to the sun and the moon as almost all commentators explain (and try to understand.) After discussing at length the emergence of multi-cellular organisms, Parker comes up with a chiddush (novel explanation): this event of Genesis must be referring to the evolution of the eye, which first appeared in trilobites around 521 million YBP! Yes, that is right, the light that divides day from night is actually a reference to the sense of vision. "Why the author of the creation account placed emphasis in his narrative to introduce the eye, cannot be explained." But "he remained on a parallel course with the scientifically correct sequence of events in the history of life".

5) Waters bring forth abundant creatures. Moses ("who may have first spoken [these words]") lived far from the sea and would have known only about land animals, birds and insects who shared his territory. (Parker apparently never looked at a map of Goshen.) A discussion of the Cambrian explosion ensues. Life 580 million YBP was exclusively marine. "Bring forth" corresponds to the evolutionary processes following the evolution of the eye. The author must have "received word that this is the way it really happened." Parker finds this "rather scary".

6) Life unfolds. Great whales and every living creature that moves are brought forth. This corresponds to the great diversity of the Silurian and Devonian ("age of fishes") eras. The author of Genesis is "spot on", as it mentions giant sea monsters. Briefly mentioned here are mammal-like reptiles, dinosaurs (why these giants are not mentioned, Parker doesn't say), and the earliest bird fossils. Then mammals and finally modern humans 160,000 YBP.

7) Winged fowls. Parker doesn't know why birds are singled out, since they are "an exception to the rule of vision, the sense that caused evolution." But he spends considerable time talking about bird feathers. "Birds, evolving late in the history of animals, serve as a message of the power of light and vision on earth today...It was fitting for the author of Genesis to say something special about birds in his creation account".

In general, Parker takes a pretty standard scientific approach towards evolution, geology, etc. He also agrees with the Documentary Hypothesis. But in the chapter God, Parker plunges into theology when he states that "Either the author of Genesis was directed by divine intervention, or he made a lucky guess." In presenting this false dilemma, he doesn't consider that he is fitting the account of creation to his own theory. The Bible clearly says that "the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars" are created after the plants; but that doesn't jive with his thesis. He ignores the obvious (sun, moon, and stars) and creates a general category that he equates with the "evolution of vision". Gimmeabreak! He likewise ignores other anomalies, such as fruit trees (actually all flowering plants) developing very late, after mammals and birds, completely at odds with the order in Genesis. Birds likewise evolved relatively late, and again the order in Genesis is inconsistent with the scientific understanding, but for Parker birds are "an exception"!

Parker also says that the Bible is the greatest inconvenience to atheists. The stronger our belief in God, the higher our morale. (Yeah, the Crusaders did have high morale, it just that they weren't very moral!) He hints that he agrees with the Catholic Church of Scotland's 2005 guide to the Bible which - while arguing for a symbolic interpretation of the text - accepts that it is a divine revelation to Moses.

I think that one can sum up the book by looking at this quote in the chapter on birds: "When the biblical text is taken literally, it is left in the wake of an advancing science. But when it is read figuratively, as here in the case of birds, it becomes a great unknown in the way it keeps pace with modern science". In other words, "I will interpret the text in such a manner as to agree with my thesis, and ignore the obvious problems with a literal reading."


G*3 said...

> But, says Parker, beginning the story with the formation of the sun 5 billion years before present (YBP) makes "intuitive sense" and might not seem remarkable.

The creation account doesn’t begin with the creation of the sun. That’s one of its many problems.

4 is clever. Highly questionable, and he’s really hammering to get his square peg into the round hole, but clever.

> "an exception to the rule of vision, the sense that caused evolution."
Huh? Vision caused evolution? Does he expand on that at all?

Would he accept a figurative reading of other mythology? I think a lot of creation myths could be interpreted allegorically and twisted to fit with current science. I’ve never actually researched it, but I’d bet that Hindus also have allegorical explanations of the Hindu creation myth. As would all of the religious groups of the ancient world, if they were still practiced today.

Anonymous said...

"As would all of the religious groups of the ancient world, if they were still practiced today."

Except the the one true religion, that had the right story all along. It's practiced by three people in Sub-Saharan Africa. More's the pity.

Frum Heretic said...

G*3 - the whole "lights in the firmament" chapter is entitled "Vision", although Parker doesn't even discuss the topic until he is on the last few pages of the 29 page chapter! (He really pads things out in the book, because otherwise it would just be a 10 page pamphlet.) And then all he says can be summed up by this: before the sense of vision, light had no effect on animal behavior. But once the eye developed, organisms could be more effective predators.

The book is on the library return shelf, but I opened it up again to respond. And in doing so, I realized that much more how bad the book is. So I am a little upset with you for asking the question since it only reaffirms my foolishness for taking it out in the first place!

JewishRebel said...

I'd really be interested to know a bit more about evidence against a single language in Bavel. Could you tell me where to find any articles on that?

And thanks for writing articles such as these! :)

Frum Heretic said...

Let's keep in mind a few things regarding the falacious belief that Migdal Bavel represented a time where the "whole earth was of one language and of one speech".

1) The dispersion supposedly happened circa 1765 BCE, less than 350 years after the (non-existent) global flood destroyed the entire planet except for the inhabitants of Noah's ark.

2) The previous chapter already describes the division of nations that occurred after the flood. One would therefore have to say that the Torah is written out of order here.

3) Rashi, based on medrash Tanchuma, says that the one language was Hebrew. Yet Hebrew developed from other Semitic precursors, and the earliest record we have of it dates to about 1000 BCE.

4) Estimates of the origin of human language dates to the dispersal from Africa more than 50,000 years ago.

5) By the time of the supposed dispersal, the Great Pyramid of Giza had been around for about 800 years! Continuous habitation in Egypt (pre-Dynastic Egypt goes back more than 800 more years). China had been settled for over 1000 years (earliest dynasty goes back to about 2850 BCE). Already had well-developed language in these regions. Neither would have been part of the dispersal; and Afro-Eurasic and Sino-Tibetan languages would have already diverged.