Dan Gilgoff, religion reporter for CNN, unfortunately has reason yet again to be reporting on “creationism.”
As part of this report, Gilgoff recites a common bit of boilerplate about what creationists believe. It’s a helpful summary of those beliefs, but it also includes one common, but still indefensible, error that would be easily corrected by anyone actually bothering to read the first two chapters of the book of Genesis.
This is a pet peeve of mine, and it may seem like a minor point,* but it actually turns out to be rather important, contributing to all sorts of other mistakes based on this one.
Here’s Gilgoff. I’ve put the false sentence in bold:
Most creationists believe in the account of the origins of the world as told in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
In the creation account, God creates Adam and Eve, the world and everything in it in six days.
For Christians who read the Genesis account literally, or authoritatively as they would say, the six days in the account are literal 24-hour periods and leave no room for evolution. Young Earth creationists use this construct and biblical genealogies to determine the age of the Earth and typically come up with 6,000 to 10,000 years.
No. Adam and Eve are not part of the story of God creating “the world and everything in it in six days.” The book of Genesis does not say that “Adam and Eve” were created on the sixth day.
The first chapter of Genesis tells a six-day creation story and Adam and Eve do not appear in it. The second chapter of Genesis tells a one-day creation story and Adam and Eve are characters in that second, separate story.
This is not complicated. Bibles are not hard to find, and Genesis is not hard to find in those Bibles. And yet, over and over, we hear this same assertion repeated — that God created “Adam and Eve” on “the sixth day.”
Wrong story. Different story. Genesis simply does not say that. It doesn’t matter if you claim to read Genesis “literally” or historically, or allegorically, or mythically, or theologically — it does not say that.
Here is what the first story in the first chapter of Genesis says happened on the sixth day of the six-day creation it describes:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.
Aaand scene. End of story. No Adam. No Eve. In the first story and the first chapter in Genesis, God creates “humankind” on the sixth day of creation. Humankind was created “male and female” and is spoken of as plural throughout this story, but the story never says that only two humans were created on the sixth day. (Two doesn’t seem like much of a multitude.)
That same word for humankind — adam — reappears in the second story that begins in the second chapter, but there it appears as a proper noun, as the name of an individual character, Adam. In our English translations of Genesis, that Hebrew word adam is always translated into English in the first story — “humankind,” or “mankind,” or “man” — because there it is plural and clearly not an individual’s name or a proper noun. In the second story, however, the word is presented differently. It is capitalized and left untranslated to indicate that here — unlike in the first story — it is being used as the name of a single individual.
The same word is translated differently because it has a different meaning. It has a different meaning because it is being used differently in a different story.
Now, the creationists whom Gilgoff otherwise describes accurately go to great lengths to argue that the second creation story in Genesis is not a different story, but merely the same story told — inexplicably — a second time in different words. They twist themselves in knots to harmonize the two stories, blurring the stark differences in time and sequence. The question they never seem able to answer is, if these two stories were meant to be harmonized, then why didn’t the writer(s) of Genesis harmonize them? Or, at least, why didn’t the writer(s) make the two stories harmonize-able?
Why does Genesis give us two stories instead of one? For creationists, the answer seems to be that it’s for the same reason that God hid all those fossils in the Burgess Shale — to test our faith.
I don’t think that’s right. We have been given two stories. One tells us about God’s creation of humankind, spoken into being on the sixth day as the capstone of the creation of this world. The other tells us about God’s creation of Mr. Humankind, hand-shaped out of the dust on the first day as the cornerstone of the creation of this world. Two different stories with two different agendas — two different lessons. Pretending otherwise is likely to lead to getting both of those lessons wrong.
I don’t think this is splitting hairs. I think this matters in all the ways that Mr. Humankind — Adam — has come to matter for Christians thinking about everything from redemption to human rights.
In the documentary Hellbound, Ken Miller has a frustrating but revealing discussion with a couple of folks from the infamously hateful Westboro Baptist Church. Miller says something about humans being made “in the image of God” and Westboro Guy cuts him off. Westboro Guy says no, only Adam was created in the image of God. Everyone else, he says, is created in the image of Adam. And thus, WG explains, it’s perfectly cool to hate everyone else.
Westboro’s perverse theology has far, far more wrong with it than just that it fails to distinguish between the stories in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2. But that confusion plays a role in their larger confusion.
I think it plays a role in a lot of larger confusions.
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* Especially since Gilgoff’s report is about a U.S. Congressman, Rep. Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, who sits on the House committee for science and technology. This man — a public official who oversees science policy for a nation of more than 300 million people, said this:
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
Paul Broun believes in a global conspiracy of smart people determined to keep people like him from Jesus. Or something. All he’s really sure of is that the earth is younger than Jericho and that scientists are evil people.
TPM’s Benjy Sarlin first publicized this story: “Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA): Evolution, Big Bang ‘Lies Straight From The Pit Of Hell’.” Wonkette’s Doktor Zoom chimed in with commentary that gives Broun all the respect he deserves. And then various people who respect either religion or science (or both) piled on with condemnations of Broun’s ignorant disregard for truth, fact, God, the Bible, literacy, intelligence, the physical world, etc.
Here are some of my favorite responses:
- James McGrath: “Congressman Paul Broun’s Lies From the Pit of Hell“
- Robert Cargill: “Why fundamentalist evangelical Republican politicians scare me (and should scare you too)“
- Greg Mayer: “What’s the matter with embryology?“
- Steve Wiggins: “Science Friction“
- Phil Plait: “The US Congress Anti-Science Committee“
- Greg Laden: “This is why Republicans are scary dangerous, and separation of church and state is so important“
- Ethan Siegel: “Why I am a liar straight from the pit of hell“