Monday, January 16, 2006

The sun, the moon and the stars

I am an agnostic. In fact, as our Subaru wagon's bumper sticker attests, I am a "militant agnostic". That is, I don't know and you don't either.

What do I mean by this and why would I stick my hand into such a bee's nest?

First, I am an agnostic: perhaps God/some omniscient all-powerful being exists out there somewhere (or everywhere), perhaps not. I just don't know. I have no personal experience that this is the case, no convincing proof, and no faith.

Second, I am a militant agnostic, because not only do I not know about the existence/non-existence of God, but I also am convinced that no one else knows either. You might believe, you might have faith, but that is different from knowledge.

And now...why would I get into this highly contentious issue? Because I actually took some time to read a little bit of the Torah/Old Testament the other day. This is not something that I usually do. In fact, it is likely something that I will do only when I am really bored and the only thing to read is the Torah.

Hey, that must mean I was in a synagogue recently!

Yes, that is indeed the case. I attended the Bar Mitzvah of my cousin, Matthew. Now, don't get me wrong: I was very proud of Matt and very happy to be there. And when he sang the mitzvot, the blessings, and read his Haftorah, I was paying full attention. In between those high points, however, there were some, let us say, less enthralling moments. And so I turned to the Torah, and where else to start but at the beginning?

So I start reading about creation and soon was stunned to come across the following passage:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/genesis.html)

This seemingly direct translation is commonly interpreted as follows: On the fourth day God created the sun, moon, and stars. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis#Creation)

Now, I understand that there are many, many (some might say "too many") people in this world (referred to as "fundamentalists") who believe that the Torah is the very word of God, to be followed strictly and literally, not interpreted, not put into "context" or relativized for the changing times. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist)

Well, for those people I have a question: do you actually believe, as this portion of the Book of Genesis baldly states, that the moon is a source of light -- and do you believe that God has this same understanding? Way back when, as in thousands of years ago, human beings thought that the moon was just like the sun: a source of light. One source illuminated the day (the sun) and the other illuminated the night (the moon). Now humans generally understand and accept, so far as I know, that the Moon simply reflects light from the sun; it does not provide any light of its own.

I can certainly understand that the humans of 2000, 5000 or 10000 years past would not have known this. But surely God, the all-knowing, all-powerful whatever-it-is that supposedly created the sun and the moon, knew that the moon wasn't spewing out any lumens of its own.

Am I missing something here, or does the Book of Genesis clearly and unambiguously reveal its human authorship?

10 comments:

earlcoombs said...

Hi Steven,
Very interesting. I guess I believe that the Bible/Torah originates from oral tradition. Stories passed from generation to generation by the guy who had that job in the tribe/clan before they had writing(probably a good job - didn't have to go on all the hunts). So perhaps the Book of Genesis did have human origin.
Earl

Kenshi said...

Ah, religion... On most forums where I participate the question usually pops up every month or two, resulting in 15 to 30 pages of arguing between people who won't hear each other.

We know for sure that bible was written by humans to control other humans. Religion had it's role in society 1000 years ago, but today, people still believeing this... Never stops to amaze me. Why don't they believe scientology too... At least it's more fun!

IMO, IF God exists - he sure hate people A LOT! He hates Americans (WTC and all the hurricanes) and he hates even more the rest of the world. He hate the most starving people in Africa! AIDS for 30% of population, no food, and the can't find relieve even in death - they guaranteed to go to hell because they don't know about Christian God!

So even if we assume God exists, I don't see how all the religios people hope that afterlife will be cool... Based on what's going on on in this world, I'd approximate that it's tough on the other side too. But that's just me, who'd rather base a guess on what I see, than on some book. I realize that many people in America don't have the luxury of a choise. If you are born in a religious family and you brainwashed since 2, what chanse of making your own desisions you have?

Religion is a huge business in America and Church needs every soul they can get! Competition is tough... I have preset on my car radio for some Christian station. The things those guys say is often better than the comedy show (that's why I listen). And they never forget to ask for money every 15 minutes. Once they even prooved base on a bible that a believer should give to church 1/3rd of a family income. All that in serious voice!

Vlad

Steven Feuerstein said...

Sent to me by a reader and I decided to post it:

Steven -

It certainly is stunning. The revelation that God created everything is stunning to many people...

You are certainly missing something here. It does NOT say the moon creates light. It says it is a source of light. And yes, it does reflect the light of the sun. But at night, in the dark, the moon is a source of light.

What does it matter if it is reflected light?

So what is your feeble point here?

Steven Feuerstein said...

I don't think you can reasonably interpret "reflector" as "source". A reflector reflects light from the source. Source clearly and directly implies origination. A mirror is never a source of light. The moon is never a source of light.

My feeble point? Simply, that it would seem rather obvious that either (a) the Torah is not the word of God and should not be interpreted literally (if we humans could ALL agree on this simple point, lots of misery could be avoided), or (b) God isn't running on all cylinders.

Like I said, if someday it becomes clear to me that God created everything, well, that will be very exciting. Not sure how much it will change my life, but it will be very exciting.

Gary Myers said...

Isaac Asimov did an interesting book on the bible book of Genesis, covering its origins and areas of agreement/disagreement with current scientific theory.
http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/lifetimes/asi-r-beginning.html

Kenshi said...

Check this interview with Asimov:
http://www.sullivan-county.com/id3/asimov2.htm

thinkaboutitabit said...

Don't you think it's a little silly to read a few lines of the torah that has been passed down and observed for thousands of years, and decide that your analysis is intelligent? You instantly assume that everybody, including all of your ancestors, are less intelligent and/or honest than you? Making a conclusion in this way just means that you had already made up your mind. You already know that it is all balogney. But why would you analyze a few lines out of thousands which have been analyzed and understood for thousands of years, and decide that yours is sensible? The only honest way to approach it is to go to the experts of the ones who support it and can explain the analysis based on the most knowledge of the subject, and doing the same for the opposition, and deciding which makes more sense. But to come to conclusions this way, I don't think is honest. People come to all kinds of conclusions about torah based on next to zero actual knowledge of it's contents or claims and traditions, and then start searching for supporting evidence, and joining with other critics in mocking how stupid those who believe are(people generally spend time mocking others because they feel insecurity, it helps subdue the part of us that thinks, maybe they know something i don't know). And most people go a lifetime without really challenging their beliefs and underlying assumptions.

commonsensemom said...

I SO agree with you. I totally agree with what Kenshi said about the bible being written to control other humans (and by homophobic men at that). I have used the argument many times that if there is an all-powerful god out there then what's up with all the starving, AID's-riddled people in Africa. Wow~ I sure could do a much better job as a god than this supposed one is doing. I would NEVER 'give my children' something to 'handle' ~ You know that ultra-idiotic saying "god never gives you more than you can handle". There is NO good reason to afflict your children with something horrible for ANY REASON. And if that statement were true anyway why is there suicide? I am embarassed by people who believe this malarky. Why can't people just admit that NOBODY knows and just live according to what you know is right and wrong.

Shiggity said...

"You might believe, you might have faith, but that is different from knowledge."

No one really "knows" anything. I can say I "know" Australia exists or that I "know" I'm currently leaving a comment on the Internet, but these all beliefs also. Ergo, a Christian may say he "knows" God exists, but I would take that in the only sense where it would have meaning - a strong belief therein.

Steven Feuerstein said...

Well, Sniggity, I would like to think that the difference between "knowing" Australia exists and "knowing" God exists is rather clear. One is provable (I can travel -- indeed, I have traveled -- to Australia and confirm for myself that it exists). The other is unprovable.