Fire Back: Where the Readers Respond

In which we discuss the specific ‘scientific’ reason for my conversion to Christianity.

LC writes:

Thank you for making the story of your conversion to Christianity public.  I am a Christian apologist who is using your story as a discussion point in a meetup I am holding.  One of the atheists that is attending is asking what specific scientific reasons (not philosophical or theological) you found most compelling in your conversion.  The article mentions your work on deuterium abundances as well as your amazement that the universe is comprehensible.  Do you have any other scientific reasons that I could share with the group that you find compelling?

My conversion was a two-step process that took place over many years. I first went from atheism to theism, and then after a few years, I went from theism to Christianity. The former was completely unexpected; the latter was a very deliberate process.

You will have to explain to your atheist attendee that you cannot separate science from philosophy, so there was no ‘purely scientific’ reason for my conversion. What specifically led me to believe in God was the idea best expressed by Einstein when he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

Through my research in cosmology, I got an overwhelming sense of a universe that is so rational that it’s as though it wanted to be understood. I had a specific question I was trying to answer with my research — how much of the universe is comprised of ordinary matter* — and it shocked me when I realized not only how answerable the question was, but that there was no reason it had to be this way. How is it even possible to have a rational universe without some kind of rational cause? I realized that by far the best explanation for the existence of the universe is that it was caused by a personal, rational, transcendent being of some kind. At that time, I called this personal cause “God,” but didn’t have any specific religious beliefs beyond God as the Creator.

Note that this is not a God of the gaps argument or an argument from incredulity, which is how atheists often try to spin it. It’s simply the most rational explanation, and I had no choice but to accept it on that basis. If you want to understand this explanation in greater depth, William Lane Craig has some good articles and videos on the philosophical argument that the cause of the universe has to be a personal being.

It was that realization that took me from atheism to theism. What took me from theism to Christianity was mostly Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, which I highly recommend. After reading the first four chapters in particular, I reasoned that the odds of Genesis not being divinely inspired were so low as to be effectively impossible. Once I realized that Genesis was, contra the odds, rather scientifically accurate for a thousands year-old document, I began investigating the rest of the Bible and specifically the evidence for the gospels. I came to the conclusion that the best explanation, given the evidence, is that the gospels were true, so I accepted Jesus on that basis.

* One of these days I’m going to write a post about the details of the research project and how it ultimately led to my conversion.

How (not) to argue with atheists

As a scientist who is Christian, I often get requests to help other Christians in their arguments with atheist friends and relatives. These requests are usually borne of desperation, because Christians often don’t know how to respond to scientific objections to Christian belief. However, enlisting the help of someone like me is almost always doomed to failure in these cases, and I’ll explain why.

Years ago, when I was a freshly-converted Christian, I got into a protracted argument with a militant atheist who was a retired engineer. For months, we went back and forth about the scientific validity of Genesis, about the reasonableness of miracles, about the historical evidence for Jesus. To my frustration, it went absolutely nowhere. I finally realized he wasn’t merely devoid of belief, as he claimed, but was deeply invested in the idea of the Bible being false. He’d read countless books purporting to debunk Christianity, which struck me as a bit odd for someone who insisted he simply lacked belief. He also got noticeably angry when talking about God, which, as I would gradually realize over many arguments, was a big tell. After months of arguing, I discovered the reason for his anger. His father and grandfather were bad men who had treated him very harshly when he was a young boy, and both died when he was still young. He recalled asking his Christian mother if his father and grandfather were going to heaven or hell. When she told him they were going to heaven and closed off all further discussion, he became angry and resentful. He never forgave God for failing to administer justice to his bad father and grandfather, and an atheist was born.

Many atheists have had similarly bad childhood experiences with religion, and became atheists when they were young. This is because children have a highly tuned sense of justice, and without a wise adult to help them put pain and disappointment into perspective, it can turn into anger and resentment toward God. Anything that is perceived as an injustice on the part of God — a failure to act on their behalf in a time of distress, a failure to punish someone for wrongdoing, or the failure to prevent a parent from abandoning them — is paid back with anger and denial. The scientific arguments against God are just cover for the anger, to give it an air of intellectualism.

The reason logical arguments don’t work against militant atheists is that you can’t logic someone out of an emotional belief.

My engineer acquaintance expressed his anger with God by actively rejecting anything to do with God and trying to convince others to do the same. That was the reason for the books debunking the Bible, the scientific arguments against God, and so on, in spite of his professed “mere lack of belief.” And that was the reason my rational arguments in favor of God and the Bible were ineffective with this man.

However, this is not true of all atheists. I was an atheist for many years, and my lack of belief wasn’t rooted in pain and anger, but in arrogance that was founded on childhood experiences. Growing up in a secular country with atheist parents, what little I observed of Christianity was from a great distance, it was extremely limited, and it was filtered through an adolescent mind. It left me thinking Christianity was silly and for the weak-minded. It took some maturing to humble my attitude, but mostly I came to believe in God by being exposed to evidence that Christianity was intellectually deep and consistent with what I observed in the world around me.

To be effective in an argument with an atheist, you have to first discern what forms the basis of his disbelief. Is it a casual sort of atheism that’s based on lack of convincing evidence? If so, present him with evidence. Is it an arrogant atheism based on preconceived but false ideas? If so, knock down the false ideas. If it’s an angry atheism based on a deep-rooted emotional experience, then you will not be able to convince him through even the most rational arguments and powerful evidence. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do with an angry atheist.

One of my colleagues is a converted Christian who says that in his angry atheist days, his favorite thing to do when arguing with Christians was to knock them off balance. He knew he couldn’t dissuade them from their beliefs with his arguments, so instead he’d try to get them to doubt just a little, knowing it would be a growing source of consternation to them. Christians can take a page from his book and likewise knock atheists off balance.

Most angry atheists like to assume a stance of intellectual superiority over Christians, so you can use that to knock them off balance. Present them with this list of Christians who are in science and tech and note how many of them are also Nobel laureates. Present them with this collection of quotes about God and religion by great scientific minds (not all of them Christian). The reaction will be to wave their hands and say that it just goes to show it’s possible to be smart and believe stupid things, but that’s okay. You will have planted the seed of doubt, and it will grow.

There are other ways to knock atheists off balance, but it requires some skill in rhetoric. Rhetoric is an argument that appeals to the emotions rather than to the intellect, and with most people it has far greater power to convince than rational arguments. This is why so much of politics and advertising is based on rhetoric. So, don’t bother with rational arguments when dealing with an angry atheist — rhetoric is what you should use. If you want to master it, start with Aristotle.

Remember, always respond to atheists in a way that addresses the real problem:

  • respond to lack of evidence with evidence
  • respond to false notions with truth
  • respond to anger and superiority by knocking off balance and with rhetoric, and let God take care of the rest.

 

Weekly Psalm 19: The Heart of Cygnus

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — the heart of Cygnus.

2016-07-19_578e996bc65fd_cygnus-v2-small

Also known as IC 1318 or the Sadr region, this nebula lies at the heart of Cygnus the Swan, a summer constellation in the Northern hemisphere. IC 1318 is an emission nebula, ionized by the radiation from a nearby hot star.

The bright star on the left is Deneb (Alpha Cygni) and the bright star on the right is Sadr (Gamma Cygni), neither of which are actually part of the nebula, but lie partway between Earth and IC 1318. These stars are clearly visible to the naked eye, but the emission nebula is too faint to be seen without long exposures on a telescope.

The pink patches are ionized hydrogen gas, and the dark streaks are dust-infused gas blocking visible light from view.

Image credit:Bill Mark.

Backyard Astronomy: August 2016

backyard_astro

Here are some fun astronomical events you and your family can enjoy in the month of August. All you need is an inexpensive telescope or binoculars for most of these events, but some of them are viewable with the naked eye.

August 12-13: Perseids Meteor Shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth moves through a cloud of debris left behind by a comet. The Perseids are debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. As meteor showers go, this one is top-notch, producing many bright streaks and up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs every year from July 17th to August 24th, but will peak on the night of the 12th and the early morning of the 13th. Look in the direction of the constellation Perseus after midnight for your best chance.

August 16: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. Mercury will be at its greatest apparent distance (~27 degrees) from the Sun in the sky. It can be a little tricky to observe tiny Mercury as it follows the setting Sun on the Western horizon. The closer you are to the equator, the higher Mercury will be in the sky before it descends, and the easier it will be to see it.

August 27: Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. You don’t want to miss this one. A conjunction occurs when two or more planets appear to overlap or come very close together in the sky. (Remember, in terms of their physical separations, these planets are still very far away from each other.) This conjunction will take place just after sunset, when Jupiter and Venus will appear less than a tenth of a degree away of each other on the sky. That’s super-close!

Weekly Psalm 19: Bode and the Cigar

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — the galaxy pair, M81 and M82.

1200px-AnttlersM81M82

This galaxy pair is part of the M81 group, a collection of 34 galaxies that are all gravitationally bound to each other. These two galaxies (click the image to enlarge it) are particularly strongly attracted to each other, which has triggered some extreme activity in both.

The spiral galaxy on the left is M81, and is also referred to as Bode’s Galaxy, after J.E. Bode, who discovered it in the 18th century. Bode’s Galaxy has an active black hole in its center weighing in at 70 million times the mass of the Sun. The gigantic black hole is feeding on gaseous material that has spiraled down to the center of the galaxy, which causes it to shine very brightly. The galaxy on the right is M82, and is sometimes called the Cigar Galaxy because of its cigar-like shape, which is due to its gravitational interaction with M81. This interaction has triggered massive star formation in M82.

The galaxy pair appears in the Ursa Major constellation, and is relatively nearby at 12 million light-years away, making it a favorite of both professional and amateur astronomers. The M81 Group is a neighbor to the Local Group, which contains the Milky Way, and the two groups are part of the much larger Virgo Supercluster of galaxies.

Image credit:Anttler.

Weekly Psalm 19: Spiral galaxy NGC 2841

Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — spiral galaxy NGC 2841.

ngc2841c_hst_lg

Click on the image to appreciate its full grandeur.

Such a boring name for such a beautiful object. German-British astronomer William Herschel discovered NGC 2841 in the late 18th century, although at that time he wouldn’t have known what he was looking at. Astronomers at the time categorized these indistinct objects as “spiral nebulae” and thought they resided inside of the Milky Way. By the 1920s, astronomers realized they were looking at “island universes,” what we now refer to as galaxies, that are well beyond the Milky Way.

NGC 2841 is, like our galactic home, a spiral galaxy. However, it’s about 50% larger and its arms are “flocculent” or patchy and more tightly wound than the Milky Way’s. At 46 million light-years away, this galaxy is close enough to us that the Hubble Space Telescope was able to snap this magnificent view of its interior. Its golden-yellow nucleus contains a dense population of very old stars, while its arms are punctuated by bright blue dots and glowing pink hydrogen clouds indicating regions where new stars are forming. The dark swirls in the galaxy’s patchy arms are comprised of dusty gas that blocks visible light from view. If you have sufficiently dark skies and a large-ish telescope, you should be able to see this galaxy as an indistinct patch of fuzz in the Ursa Major constellation.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA) – ESA / Hubble Collaboration.

The grand ballroom of the universe

There are a lot of galaxies in the universe, and like people on a crowded dance floor, they sometimes collide. The time it takes for the full collision to unfold is hundreds of millions of years, so what we see when we observe colliding galaxies with our telescopes are really just snapshots of particular moments during the collision. To try to understand the physics of galaxy collisions, astrophysicists often create sophisticated supercomputer simulations that match our observations of different stages of actual collisions; but instead of taking a hundred million years to play out, we can watch the whole thing happen in the space of minutes.

I love watching simulated galaxy collisions, and I think you’ll find them fascinating, too. It’s as though two galaxies decide to become partners in some cosmic ballroom dance. Even though the collisions are destructive, there is something so graceful and elegant about them that I always hear Mozart in my head as I’m watching.

I wanted my astronomy students to appreciate all this, so a few years ago I put together a video compilation of three galaxy collision simulations by astrophysicists at Case Western Reserve University and set them to one of my favorite Mozart symphonies. The simulations are sometimes paused mid-collision so that the “camera” can pan around to give us a look from different angles. Following each simulation there’s an image of an actual galaxy collision of that type so you can see how well the physics of the simulations matches what we observe in the universe.

 

Weekly Psalm 19: The Bubble Nebula II

I’ve had requests to bring this feature back, which I am happy to do. So, here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — the Bubble Nebula, up close and personal.

ngc7635bubble_hubble26

Click on the image to fully appreciate its grandeur.

The Bubble Nebula is a shell of gas surrounding a massive, extremely hot star that is 15 times the size and 40 times the mass of our Sun. Stellar winds from the star push the bubble of gas out, while radiation from the star excites the gas in the bubble and causes it to glow.

The nebula resides in a giant molecular gas cloud in the constellation Cassiopeia, and is about 7,100 light-years away. The Bubble itself is 3 – 5 light-years in size, which, if you could see it with your naked eye, is half the apparent size of the full Moon on the sky.

This image is a composite of images of the Bubble Nebula taken with the Hubble Space Telescope this year, created by NASA to commemorate the 26th anniversary of Hubble’s launch. The nebula is imaged separately with different filters, and then combined with false colors to create this compelling final product. What you’re seeing here is radiation from excited hydrogen (red), oxygen (green), and sulfur (deep red) atoms.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

The uniqueness of Genesis — short version

The following is a handy distillation of yesterday’s post, which refuted the claim that Genesis is just borrowed mythology from earlier traditions. I know some of you don’t have the time to read through articles like that in all their glorious wordage, so this is for you. It’s also intended for those of you who did read the article and need help remembering the key points.

The Claim

  • Atheists claim that Genesis is not unique, but merely borrowed pagan mythology.
  • This is based on the opinions of theological liberals who find parallels between the Genesis creation story and pagan creation myths like the Babylonian Enuma Elish.
  • The Enuma Elish was discovered in the 19th century as part of an archeological dig in the ancient city of Nineveh, where it was found recorded on clay tablets.
  • This written account of the Enuma Elish predates the earliest written account of Genesis*.
  • Together, the timing and the parallels lead some theologically liberal scholars to conclude that Genesis is not unique, but a plagiarism of pagan myth.

The Parallels

  • Themes of darkness and chaos preceding order
  • Appearance of light before the Sun, the Moon, and the stars
  • Development of the world progressing in stages that culminates in the appearance of humankind
  • God/gods resting once the work is complete.

The Differences

Genesis claims:

  • The universe was created from absolute nothing
  • Only God existed prior to the creation of the universe
  • There is only one God
  • God is greater than and transcends the universe
  • Humans are deliberate creations made in the image of their Creator.

Babylonian claims:

  • The universe is eternal; the world was made from pre-existing matter
  • Personified natural forces (gods) existed prior to the making of the world
  • There are many gods
  • The gods inhabit the universe; the main god (Marduk) is located in the city of Babylon
  • Humans are incidental creations, made from the blood of the slain monster Kingu.

Genesis narrative style:

  • God-centered
  • Not interested in human personalities
  • Generally flat in tone
  • Austere in prose
  • Thirty-one verses in length.

Babylonian narrative style:

  • Decidedly not God-centered
  • Focused on the passions of the warring gods
  • Animated in tone
  • Extravagant in prose
  • Nine hundred lines in length.

The Conclusion

There are parallels between Genesis and pagan creation myths such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, but the differences are far greater. The key difference, which cannot be overstated, is the Genesis claim that God is the sovereign creator of the universe, from which all other things are made. No pagan myth makes this claim. Furthermore, the Genesis claim of a universe created from nothing is alone among all creation stories as being consistent with modern science. Genesis is therefore unique.

Genesis is unique, not borrowed mythology

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

In a previous post, I countered some claims of an atheist critic who tried to dismiss my testimony. Two of these claims — criticisms of Schroeder’s model and the uniqueness of Genesis — I wanted to address separately, since they are important. In this post, I counter the claim that Genesis is borrowed from earlier mythology. The following includes excerpts from a book I’m currently writing on how Christians can defend themselves against atheist attacks.

[Update: a brief summary of this article is here.]

How many times have you heard the claim that Genesis is just borrowed from different ancient mythologies and isn’t the unique record of God’s creation of the universe you were taught as a Christian? I’ve heard it so many times I’ve lost count. To me, it’s such a silly claim that I didn’t see any need to counter it. However, the sad fact is, I know people who say they began to lose their faith after hearing this from their professors. It turns out to be not only a fable, but a dangerous one. As I said in my previous post, it needs to die a horrible death.

Here is what my critic claims:

The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors.  It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.

This is a typical way to ridicule belief that the Bible is the word of God. Atheists claim the Bible starts off with a myth the authors of Genesis were too incompetent to come up with on their own, so the ancient Hebrews had to borrow much of it from the myths of earlier civilizations. In other words, Genesis is not a unique and true expression of God’s work, it is an act of common plagiarism.

The claim of plagiarism dates back to the 19th century archeological discovery of clay tablets in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nineveh. Some of these tablets detailed the Babylonian creation story, now referred to as the Enuma Elish. When scholars studied this story, they discovered it had some similarities to Genesis, including the theme of darkness and chaos preceding order, the appearance of light before the Sun, Moon, and stars are made, and a progression of the development of the world that culminates in the appearance of humankind and God/gods resting.

The composition of the Enuma Elish dates back to around the 13th century B.C., predating the earliest written account of Genesis. Taken at face value, the timing and the similarities give the impression that Genesis borrows from the Babylonian myth. However, this ignores significant differences between the creation accounts as well as historical and cultural context. The similarities arise from what biblical scholar Peter Enns calls “a common, ancient, way of speaking about the cosmos.” He reminds us that, though Genesis is scripture, it’s still “an ancient story that reflects ancient ways of thinking” that would have been shared amongst all Mesopotamian people of that time.

As interesting as the similarities are, the differences between Genesis and the Enuma Elish are far more striking and informative. I’ll go over those in detail below.

It is important to refute this athiest fable, because Christians will encounter it over and over, particularly young Christians who go to university. Barbara Sproul is a good example of what young people face when they enter the academic world. She’s a professor of religion at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and she wrote a book about creation myths from around the world. In her book, Primal Myths, she describes the similarities between the Genesis account of creation and earlier myths this way:

The parallels between the first creation account in Genesis and the Mesopotamian epic are not confined to their naming process. Not only are there marked similarities in specific details but also the order of creation events is the same, leading many to presume a dependence of the Old Testament account of that of the Enuma Elish or similar Babylonian documents.

Atheists also vigorously promote the argument that the Genesis account of creation is completely at odds with modern science, which I have refuted here and here.

Christians can defeat such assaults on their belief, because, as Enns points out, the evidence shows that Genesis 1 is unique among the thousands of creation stories that have been told through the ages.

Sproul describes the Genesis 1 account as:

  • God-centered
  • with little interest in human personalities
  • having a general flatness of tone
  • and austerity of prose.

She is correct in these observations. Genesis is completely different from all other creation stories in its style of writing.

Genesis is also completely different from every other creation account in its content. Compare this passage from Genesis 1 with the passage from the Enuma Elish that follows.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (2) The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (3) And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (4) And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (5) God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The truth of Professor Sproul’s assessment of the way Genesis 1 was written is obvious at once. The above passage and the rest of Genesis 1 are God-centered, matter-of-fact in tone, austere in the words that are used, and completely devoid of any description of personalities. If you read Sproul’s account of the creation myths of the world it is equally obvious that the biblical account of creation is not written in the same way that pagan creation myths were. Pagan myths are written in a completely different way, which should be obvious to you as soon as you read the passage below.

You can easily understand how weak the atheist claim of a plagiarized Genesis is by comparing the style and content of the Genesis 1 account of creation with the following passage from the Babylonian Enuma Elish that Sproul wants you to believe is so similar to the biblical account.

Discord broke out among the gods although they were brothers, warring and jarring in the belly of Tiamat, heaven shook, it reeled with the surge of the dance; Apsu could not silence the clamor, their behavior was bad, overbearing and proud.

But still Tiamat lay inert till Apsu, the father of gods, bellowed for that servant who clouds his judgment, his Mummu.

“Dear counsellor, come with me to Tiamat.”

They have gone, and in front of Tiamat they sit down and talk together about the young gods, their first-born children; Apsu said,

“Their manners revolt me, day and night without remission we suffer. My will is to destroy them, all of their kind, we shall have peace at last and we will sleep again.”

When Tiamat heard, she was stung, she writhed in lonely desolation, her heart worked in secret passion, Tiamat said,

“Why must we destroy the children that we made? If their ways are troublesome, let us wait a little while”

Then Mummu advised Apsu, and he spoke in malice.

“Father, destroy them in full rebellion, you will have quiet in the daytime and at night you will sleep.”

When Apsu heard the die was cast against his children, his face flamed with the pleasure of evil…

It is immediately obvious that the Babylonian account is the furthest thing from God-centered. The main character is Apsu who is described as the ‘father of gods.’ There is obviously more than one god. In later passages it turns out that the other major character in the story, Tiamat, is the personification of natural forces in whose ‘belly’ much turmoil is taking place.

The Enuma Elish is certainly not flat in tone with all of the ‘warring,’ ‘jarring,’ anger, malice, and individuals flaming ‘with the pleasure of evil.’ Nor is the Babylonian account in any way austere in prose when it uses words like clamor, bellowed, writhed, and secret passion.

The Babylonian passage, unlike the Genesis 1 account of creation, is all about the personalities involved in a titanic heavenly struggle. In this short passage, we are introduced to three important characters and given enough information to begin to understand their complex personalities and motivations. We are also told that there will be many more personalities involved in the Babylonian creation myth as it unfolds.

By Sproul’s own observations about Genesis 1, there are few significant similarities in the way the biblical account of creation and the Babylonian myth are presented. If you take the time to read the rest of Sproul’s book, it is evident that every other creation myth provided in Primal Myths sounds similar to the Enuma Elish and nothing like the true account of creation provided by Genesis 1. Just the brief, straight-forward, unemotional, and rational way the Genesis account was written makes it different from every other account of creation.

The differences between the divine Genesis account of creation and the thousands of other pagan myths about creation are even greater in regard to the events described and the order given for natural events. Once again the evidence provided in Primal Myths is conclusive. Contrary to Sproul’s assertion, there are no meaningful similarities between the details of the Genesis and Babylonian accounts of creation.

Here are a few of the more important differences found in Sproul’s book:

  1. Genesis tells us that God is prior to everything else. The Enuma Elish says that personified natural forces and the ‘father of the gods’ existed before the Mesopotamian/Babylonian gods.
  1. The Bible tells us that our universe came about as an orderly act of creation by a rational Deity. The Enuma Elish says that humankind and the world in which they exist came about as the result of a chaotic war between ill-behaved and overbearing gods, personified natural forces, and monsters made to destroy the gods.
  1. Genesis maintains that there is only one God. The Enuma Elish numbers the gods in the hundreds.
  1. Genesis locates God outside of and superior to the universe. The Enuma Elish locates the main god, Marduk, in the city of Babylon.
  1. Genesis says that humankind was made in the spiritual image of God and for a divine purpose. The Enuma Elish says that human beings were made unintentionally from the blood of the slain monster Kingu.

Considering these vast differences and the historical/cultural context, no reasonable and fair-minded reader could conclude that the similarities between Genesis 1 and the Enuma Elish, or any of the other creations myths described in Sproul’s book, mean that Genesis 1 is a mash-up of other traditions. On top of this, archeological studies are increasingly supporting the Pentateuch as factual, historical record, contradicting the notion that it is borrowed mythology. The argument that the biblical account of creation is a plagiarized myth is dishonest, based on ignorance, and unsupported by the evidence.

Sproul and her fellow atheists simply find only what they desperately want to believe. This false conclusion is then passed on to other atheists who don’t bother to investigate the claim for themselves, but simply repeat it. Worse, this groundless anti-Christian prejudice is passed on by academics like Sproul to unsuspecting and defenseless students in the guise of serious scholarly work. Christians must be able to confidently counter this atheist lie with the truth that Genesis 1 is a reliable account of the creation of the universe and life on Earth.

At this point, I want to offer you the perspective of a friend of mine, who is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and also a believer in Jesus as the Messiah. I asked him to comment on this article, originally intending to work his perspective into the main flow of what I’d written, but I think it’s best to let his words stand on their own.

The idea that the Genesis account is unique is critical and there is also something very fundamental and important to highlight as well, something which I think exposes a fundamental flaw in all of the other so called “accounts” of creation.

Creation ex nihilo is critical.  Creation through G-d’s Word is critical.  The Hebrew word b’reishit, translated ‘in the beginning’, proclaims that nothing existed prior to G-d’s act of creation.  The heavens and the earth were created only through G-d’s WORD … no other worldview, none, ever makes that claim.  Only through the Word of G-d.  This is mind blowing.  The Scripture teaches that the world came into existence from nonexistence.  Again, no other world view has taught or teaches this. If the claim is original and unique it wasn’t plagiarized. The Biblical claim is astoundingly so.  It is far more likely, that these Babylonian and other myths borrowed from the Torah’s account, not the other way around.

The cornerstone of all pagan belief up until this very day is the belief in the eternity of the physical world which we inhabit.  This Babylonian myth is clearly no exception and posits such a belief, which is false.  This belief is a metaphysical falsehood.  It is a gross misrepresentation of the origin of the universe, and worse yet this belief undermines and denies all morality.  This belief, the cornerstone of paganism, also negates freedom in both G-d and man.

The false belief is based upon the assumption that matter antedated creation.  If that were true, then the Creator of the universe would have only been able to fashion from the material already available and given to Him, and not a world that was absolutely good, as the Genesis account testifies and the other so-called myths do not; He would only have been able to fashion the best possible world within the limitations of the material provided Him.  Again, the Biblical account is unique and original in this regard and paganism’s account is never based on these claims, no matter which myth is cited.

Again, if the pagan world view were true, then G-d would not be the master over the material of the world, and man would not be master over his own body.  Freedom would disappear and the entire world, including its G-d and the men who live in it would be animated, constrained, and propelled by a blind, immutable fate.  This pagan conception as evidenced in the Babylonian myth and others like it, is dispelled by the Torah with its very first words: b’reishit barah Elohim!  In the beginning G-d created ….!  Absolutely everything that follows hinges on these words.  Everything – the matter and form of all that exists – was created by the free Almighty Creator.  And He still rules freely over all matter.  Paganism never made such a claim nor could they even have invented such a claim.  Such a claim is understood from the revelation given to us by G-d, Who of course is the Creator and originator of the claim.  He rules over every existing thing, over the laws by which those forces operate, as well as the resulting forms.  And men hate being ruled, so they developed their own myths and pagan beliefs to circumvent these uncomfortable truths (cf. Romans 1).  His will set the laws by which forms are fashioned.

Therefore, the world that was created is not the best possible one that can be fashioned with the given material – but according to a careful and thoughtful reading of the Genesis account, is the only good world.  Paganism makes no such claim.  Not even close.  So, it follows that this world corresponds with the wise plan of the Creator and He most certainly could have created a different world, has such a world corresponded with His will.  Remember, everything was created according to His Word … G-d spoke, G-d said, Let there be .. and there was.

The world was created wholly by G-d’s Word,and this cannot be emphasized enough.  Our sages relate that b’reishit is the very foundation of our awareness of G-d, world, and man.  When man forfeited this awareness, it had to be reestablished.  According to our sages, this was the purpose of the revealed miracles: to demonstrate G-d’s free and unbounded mastery over the world with all its elements, forces and laws.

Barah, created.  This Hebrew word denotes aspiration to emerge, emergence from potentiality into actuality, or release from bondage.  Barah also denotes bringing to light, actualizing and bringing something out into external reality.  Even in Aramaic (the language of Babylon) it means “outside”, “that which is outside”.  Barah then means to carry out and actualize  thought, which is hidden in the inner recesses of the mind.  Barah denotes creation, preceded only by thought and will, which clearly couldn’t be further from a pagan conception of things as evidenced in the so-called myths.  This is precisely the concept of creation.  Accordingly, beresheit, in the beginning, is applied only to G-d’s creation.  In other words, before the world existed, this world had existed only as a thought in the mind of the Creator.  It is the act of creation, therefore, that actualized this thought and brought it out into reality, thereby giving it an external, concrete existence.  The entire world, as a whole and in all of its parts, therefore, is nothing more than the materialized thought of G-d.  Again, this conception is unique to Biblical account recorded in Genesis.  The pagan accounts brook no such conception.  Not even close. Imitation indeed.  They look like blind handicapped children crawling around in the nursery by comparison.  This same idea that we have just elaborated in relation to barah is also presented in the root hayah, the Jewish term for being (cf. verse 2).

(Interestingly, this meaning of barah, to become external, concrete, tangible – is related to another meaning of barah: being healthy and stout.  And from this meaning is derived the term for the first meal of the day in the morning after a fast.  It is the meal which refreshes the person physically and makes him feel strong again.)

Let’s briefly consider paganism, of which the Babylonian and other myths represent.  Paganism fragments the whole world into many groups and spheres.  At the head of each sphere stands a ruler who has concentrated into his respected hands special powers.  This pagan conception, this pagan idea, this pagan notion is a direct consequence of the basic error we have been alluding to.  If matter had existed before creation, then the god who shaped this matter was bound and limited to it.  Consequently, the concept of god is lowered,and god is transformed into a natural power who is unfree in the act of creating.  Such a god is unable to create true contrasts and fundamentally different phenomena; accordingly it must have been established  by many gods (as the creations myths of the Babylonians and others often posit) – as many gods as there are groups of opposing phenomena.

Not so the Biblical account.  The Bible, in point of fact, denies the existence of these numerous gods, and ascribes the power that is attributed to them to the one and only G-d.  He alone is called Elohim.  The Bible then unites all the attributes of power that were separated by paganism.  The unification of these attributes in the one G-d raises the one G-d of Israel above any notion and limitations of a mere natural power.  For, our sages are clear, only the free and omnipotent will of a single being can create a world of contrasts; and only He can unite these contrasts into one great purpose.  Elohim refers to a single individual Who unites in Himself all the power and authority that give one control over a person or object.  Consequently, the person or object is under the exclusive authority of this individual in every respect.  Which helps explain why men are so keen to deny this authority and the Biblical account of creation.