In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, is known to modern readers from the Masoretic text, a compilation of Hebrew texts assembled by Jewish scholars in the seventh to tenth centuries A.D. from older scrolls and codices. That text, and thus the Old Testament, contain two creation stories. It is not unusual for cultures to have multiple creation stories, and throughout this booklet the paraphrases have melded two or more variations of a culture’s creation story into one. However, because the two stories in the Old Testament are so different, the two stories are recounted separately here as “Yahweh” and then “The Elohim”.
Yahweh’s creation story is from Genesis 2:4 to 3:24 of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. Extensive analysis of its style and content have led scholars of the Bible to conclude that the story was written in about the Tenth Century B.C.. That was around the time of King Solomon’s reign and in a time when Israel was a powerful nation. In contrast, the story in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 was written three or four centuries later and under very different circumstances.
The author of the story in Genesis 2:4 to 3:24 is known to scholars as “J”. That is because J referred to the creator as Yahweh ( or “YHVH” in ancient Hebrew, or “Jahweh” in the German native to many scholars of the Bible, or ultimately “Jehovah” in modern usage).
Some scholars have considered J the more primitive or rural of the two authors of the creation stories in Genesis. Others are more generous and characterize J as a poet rather than a priest. J was probably recording his or her people’s oral traditions in written form. Certainly J’s story is a more human story of temptation and punishment than the austere story written later by the author known as “P”, and J’s creator is more anthropomorphic.
In J’s story, the humans that are created have names. To English speakers, “Adam” and “Eve” are just names, but “Adam” meant “man” in ancient Hebrew and may also have been a play on “adamah”, the Hebrew word for “earth” or “clay”. “Eve” was the word for “life”.
The Elohim’s creation story, the second of our two Hebrew creation stories, is from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3. It thus appears first in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis, but it is actually the younger of the two stories presented there. A considerable body of scholarship over the last two or three centuries has concluded that this story was written in about the sixth century B.C.. That was after Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and at a time when the Hebrews were faced with exile in Babylon.
The author of this later story is known to scholars as “P”, because he or she wrote from a much more “priestly” perspective than J, the author of the chronologically earlier story that appears in Genesis 2:4 to 3:24 (see “Yahweh”, above). P’s story is one of creation ex nihilo (from nothing), and the creation is a much more stately process than that in J’s story. Because of the timing of its writing and the grandeur of its language, P’s story has been interpreted by scholars “as an origin story created for the benefit of a lost nation in the need of encouragement and affirmation” (Leeming and Leeming 1994, p. 113). In fact, some scholars have suggested that P’s story was actually written in Babylon.
P used the name “Elohim” for the creator. “Elohim” (pronounced “e lo HEEM”) is actually a plural word perhaps best translated as “the powerful ones”. P also used plural phrasing in the Elohim’s creation of humankind “after our own likeness”. Scholars have suggested that the use of the plural “Elohim” rather than the singular “Eloha” may hearken back to polytheistic roots of Middle Eastern religions and was a way to emphasize the magnitude of the deity in question. P’s first people have no names at all, in keeping with the story’s focus on the grandeur of the creator rather than on the created.
Creation.com, the authors of “15 questions for ‘evolutiontionists’ that that they have already answered but we are going to continue to ignore those answers,” has recently release a trailer for their new movie where they apparently found 15 PhDs who are willing to embarrass themselves by documenting their scientific illiteracy. The film is “Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels,” and if the trailer is any indication, it is just a repackaging of the same creationist lies that have been exposed for decades.
The trailer starts out with the claim, “Most evolutionists have never critically examined their own position.” That is, if you don’t count the last 150 years of scientific examination, thousands of published peer-reviewed papers, and dozens of popular books carefully (what’s that word?) examining the evidence for evolution. We can add to that now the countless websites and blog posts critically examining every question creationists endlessly raise. Seriously, such a claim is either a bald-faced lie, or evidence of profound intellectual laziness.
The next series of “Achilles’ Heel” shockers is based on a misunderstanding of biology, genetics, and evolution. The voice on the trailer claims that mutation and natural selection “work in the wrong direction,” and so “how does evolution work?”
You can see where they are going with this. In their 15 questions propaganda, #3 states that mutations cannot add specific information, because mutations “degrade” information. Then #4 repeats the canard that natural selection only removes unfit genetics from the population, and does not add anything.
Mutations are known for their destructive effects, including over 1,000 human diseases such as hemophilia. Rarely are they even helpful. But how can scrambling existing DNA information create a new biochemical pathway or nano-machines with many components, to make ‘goo-to-you’ evolution possible?
These statements represent a fundamental misunderstanding of biology and genetics. The notion that mutations degrade the information in DNA, are inherently harmful, or that they “scramble” DNA is all nonsense. It assumes that one configuration of DNA is inherently better than another, or that there is a “correct” sequence for any gene – mutations can only “degrade” this information.
The truth is that the DNA sequence of any organism is already a complicated mess, because it evolved from the bottom up, and was not designed from the top down. Everything is a mutation – mutations are just change, they don’t inherently “degrade.” Most mutations have little or no effect – they don’t change the amino acid sequence, or they change one amino acid to another similar amino acid that has little or no effect on the protein structure or function. When mutations do change the function of a protein, it can be neutral, harmful, beneficial, or have mixed results with some benefits and some detriments. Benefit and harm, however, often need to be viewed in the context of the organism and their current environment and survival strategies.
They actually use the word “devolving” – there’s no such thing. All such change over time is evolution. The concept of “devolving” implies that there is a preferred direction to evolutionary change. Their isn’t. Again – all the creationists document is their own ignorance of the science they presume to criticize….
This Maori creation myth was compiled by Sir George Grey in the 1840’s and 1850’s when he was British governor of New Zealand. Faced with the need to communicate with Maori tribes then in rebellion against British rule, Grey compiled the tales to which many chiefs aluded in their negotiations with him. Grey’s compilation was published in Maori in 1854 and in English in 1855.
All humans are descended from one pair of ancestors, Rangi and Papa, who are also called Heaven and Earth. In those days, Heaven and Earth clung closely together, and all was darkness. Rangi and Papa had six sons: Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants; Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms; Tangaroa, the father of fish and reptiles; Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings; Haumia-tikitiki, the father of food that grows without cultivation; and Rongo-ma-tane, the father of cultivated food. These six sons and all other beings lived in darkness for an extremely long time, able only to wonder what light and vision might be like.
Finally the sons of Heaven and Earth decided something must be done. Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings, urged his brothers to slay their parents. However, Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants, argued that they should separate their parents, making Rangi the distant sky over their heads and Papa the earth close to them like a mother. After long debate, the brothers agreed to this plan, except for Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms, who was distraught at the idea of separating their parents. The other brothers nonetheless proceeded with their plan.
Rongo-ma-tane, the father of cultivated food, rose and struggled to separate his parents, but he could not do it. Tangaroa, the father of fish and reptiles, also struggled but could not tear them apart. Haumia-tikitiki, the father of food that grows without cultivation, had no better luck at separating their parents. Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings, likewise failed. Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants, slowly rose up and struggled, but with little success. Then he put his head against the earth and, with his feet against the skies, slowly pushed them apart. His parents cried out in anguish, asking how their sons could do this, but Tane pushed and pushed until the sky was far above. As light spread across the earth, the multitude of humans that Rangi and Papa had parented were revealed.
Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms, was furious that his brothers had so cruelly separated their parents and thrust their father away. Tawhiri-ma-tea followed his father and hid in the sky and plotted his revenge. Soon he sent down storms and squalls and fiery clouds and hurricanes to punish his brother Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants, breaking off the tall trees and leaving the forests in shambles. Likewise the storms swept down on the oceans of Tangaroa, the father of fish and reptiles, and piled up waves and generated great whirlpools. Tangaroa, frightened by the havoc in oceans, dove deep to escape Tawhiri-ma-tea’s wrath.
Tangaroa abandoned his two granchildren, the father of the fish and the father of the reptiles. The fish and reptiles were left not knowing what to do, and they debated how to escape the storm. Finally, the reptiles fled to the land and hid in the forests, and the fish fled for refuge to the sea. Tangaroa, angered at the reptiles’ desertion and the forests’ willingness to receive and protect them, now struggled with Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants, who in turn fought back. Thus Tane provided the canoes, spears, and fish-hooks from the trees, and nets woven from fibrous plants, to capture the fish of Tangaroa’s seas, and Tangaroa’s waves attacked the shores of the forests, washing away the land and all the life it holds.
Tawhiri-ma-tea, the god of winds and storms, also lashed out at his brothers Haumia-tikitiki, the father of food that grows without cultivation, and Rongo-ma-tane, the father of cultivated food, for their role in the separation of his parents and exile of his father. However, Papa, the earth-mother whom the brothers had taken as their home, clasped up Haumia-tikitiki and Rongo-ma-tane and held them close in her to save them from Tawhiri-ma-tea’s fury.
Only Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings, withstood Tawhiri-ma-tea’s wrath as the winds and storms attacked. Tu-matauenga was impervious, having planned the death of their parents and having been abandoned by his brothers on the Earth. When Tawhiri-ma-tea’s gales finally subsided, Tu-matauenga began to plan his revenge on his cowardly and weak brothers. First he turned to Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants, both because Tane had abandoned him and because he knew Tane’s offspring were increasing and might ultimately overwhelm Tu-matauenga’s human progeny. Taking the leaves of the whanake tree, he made them into snares and hung them in the forests, where he caught Tanes’s offspring and subdued the forest. Then he took on Tangaroa, the father of the seas and its life, and with nets he dragged Tangaroa’s children from the seas. With a hoe and basket he dug up the children of Haumia-tikitiki, the god of food that needs no cultivation, and Rongo-ma-tane, the god of cultivated food. He dug up all kinds of plants and left them in the sun to dry, to gain revenge on those two brothers.
Tu-matauenga, the father of fierce human beings, thus consumed all his four brothers on Earth, and they became his food. Only one brother, Tawhiri-ma-tea, the god of winds and storms, remained unconquered, and to this day his storms attack human beings on both land and sea in revenge for the rending of Heaven and Earth.
This creation myth comes from the Hopi people of northern Arizona. “Hopi” means “People of Peace”. The stories here were recorded in the 1950s by Oswald White Bear Fredericks and his wife Naomi from the storytelling of older Hopi at the village of Oraibi, which tree-ring dating indicates has been inhabited by the Hopi since at least 1150 AD.
The world at first was endless space in which existed only the Creator, Taiowa. This world had no time, no shape, and no life, except in the mind of the Creator. Eventually the infinite creator created the finite in Sotuknang, whom he called his nephew and whom he created as his agent to establish nine universes. Sotuknang gathered together matter from the endless space to make the nine solid worlds. Then the Creator instructed him to gather together the waters from the endless space and place them on these worlds to make land and sea. When Sotuknang had done that, the Creator instructed him to gather together air to make winds and breezes on these worlds.
The fourth act of creation with which the Creator charged Sotuknang was the creation of life. Sotuknang went to the world that was to first host life and there he created Spider Woman, and he gave her the power to create life. First Spider Woman took some earth and mixed it with saliva to make two beings. Over them she sang the Creation Song, and they came to life. She instructed one of them, Poqanghoya, to go across the earth and solidify it. She instructed the other, Palongawhoya, to send out sound to resonate through the earth, so that the earth vibrated with the energy of the Creator. Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya were despatched to the poles of the earth to keep it rotating.
Then Spider Woman made all the plants, the flowers, the bushes, and the trees. Likewise she made the birds and animals, again using earth and singing the Creation Song. When all this was done, she made human beings, using yellow, red, white, and black earth mixed with her saliva. Singing the Creation Song, she made four men, and then in her own form she made four women. At first they had a soft spot in their foreheads, and although it solidified, it left a space through which they could hear the voice of Sotuknang and their Creator. Because these people could not speak, Spider Woman called on Sotuknang, who gave them four languages. His only instructions were for them to respect their Creator and to live in harmony with him.
These people spread across the earth and multiplied. Despite their four languages, in those days they could understand each other’s thoughts anyway, and for many years they and the animals lived together as one. Eventually, however, they began to divide, both the people from the animals and the people from each other, as they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. As division and suspicion became more widespread, only a few people from each of the four groups still remembered their Creator. Sotuknang appeared before these few and told them that he and the Creator would have to destroy this world, and that these few who remembered the Creator must travel across the land, following a cloud and a star, to find refuge. These people began their treks from the places where they lived, and when they finally converged Sotuknang appeared again. He opened a huge ant mound and told these people to go down in it to live with the ants while he destroyed the world with fire, and he told them to learn from the ants while they were there. The people went down and lived with the ants, who had storerooms of food that they had gathered in the summer, as well as chambers in which the people could live. This went on for quite a while, because after Sotuknang cleansed the world with fire it took a long time for the world to cool off. As the ants’ food ran low, the people refused the food, but the ants kept feeding them and only tightened their own belts, which is why ants have such tiny waists today.
Finally Sotuknang was done making the second world, which was not quite as beautiful as the first. Again he admonished the people to remember their Creator as they and the ants that had hosted them spread across the earth. The people multiplied rapidly and soon covered the entire earth. They did not live with the animals, however, because the animals in this second world were wild and unfriendly. Instead the people lived in villages and built roads between these, so that trade sprang up. They stored goods and traded those for goods from elsewhere, and soon they were trading for things they did not need. As their desire to have more and more grew, they began to forget their Creator, and soon wars over resources and trade were breaking out between villages. Finally Sotuknang appeared before the few people who still remembered the Creator, and again he sent them to live with the ants while he destroyed this corrupt world. This time he ordered Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya to abandon their posts at the poles, and soon the world spun out of control and rolled over. Mountains slid and fell, and lakes and rivers splashed across the land as the earth tumbled, and finally the earth froze over into nothing but ice.
This went on for years, and again the people lived with the ants. Finally Sotuknang sent Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya back to the poles to resume the normal rotation of the earth, and soon the ice melted and life returned. Sotuknang called the people up from their refuge, and he introduced them to the third world that he had made. Again he admonished the people to remember their Creator as they spread across the land. As they did so, they multiplied quickly, even more quickly than before, and soon they were living in large cities and developing into separate nations. With so many people and so many nations, soon there was war, and some of the nations made huge shields on which they could fly, and from these flying shields they attacked other cities. When Sotuknang saw all this war and destruction, he resolved to destroy this world quickly before it corrupted the few people who still remembered the Creator. He called on Spider Woman to gather those few and, along the shore, she placed each person with a little food in the hollow stem of a reed. When she had done this, Sotuknang let loose a flood that destroyed the warring cities and the world on which they lived.
Once the rocking of the waves ceased, Spider Woman unsealed the reeds so the people could see. They floated on the water for many days, looking for land, until finally they drifted to an island. On the island they built little reed boats and set sail again to the east. After drifting many days, they came to a larger island, and after many more days to an even larger island. They hoped that this would be the fourth world that Sótuknang had made for them, but Spider Woman assured them that they still had a long and hard journey ahead. They walked across this island and built rafts on the far side, and set sail to the east again. They came to a fourth and still larger island, but again they had to cross it on foot and then build more rafts to continue east. From this island, Spider Woman sent them on alone, and after many days they encountered a vast land. Its shores were so high that they could not find a place to land, and only by opening the doors in their heads did they know where to go to land.
When they finally got ashore, Sotuknang was there waiting for them. As they watched to the west, he made the islands that they had used like stepping stones disappear into the sea. He welcomed them to the fourth world, but he warned them that it was not as beautiful as the previous ones, and that life here would be harder, with heat and cold, and tall mountains and deep valleys. He sent them on their way to migrate across the wild new land in search of the homes for their respective clans. The clans were to migrate across the land to learn its ways, although some grew weak and stopped in the warm climates or rich lands along the way. The Hopi trekked and far and wide, and went through the cold and icy country to the north before finally settling in the arid lands between the Colorado River and Rio Grande River. They chose that place so that the hardship of their life would always remind them of their dependence on, and link to, their Creator.