Genesis, the Firmament, and Christian Fundamentalism

Drawing attention to the many contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible, as well as the verses that contradict what we’ve learned about the age of the earth, the size of the universe and the earth’s place in it, etc., can occasionally open minds if they are open to reason to begin with. Some of the best and brightest among us have always had the ability to find these discrepancies on their own, and the honesty to point them out to others. Such a one, for example, was Jean Meslier. This simple French priest composed three copies of a testament that demolished Christianity, not to mention all other versions of belief in a Supreme Being, more than a hundred years before Darwin published his theories. Somehow Voltaire and a few other kindred spirits got wind of the Testament, and so preserved it for later generations. Since then, it has been an inspiration to many who have also had the courage to think for themselves. Unfortunately, minds that live in little steel cages of “faith” aren’t so accessible. They can always adjust reality to fit scripture as needed.

Take, for example, the discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus between the versions in the books of Matthew and Luke. It would seem that, on reading these two vastly different versions, a logical, open-minded person would conclude that the claim that the entire Bible is infallible is wrong. After all, a God who really loves us and wants us to find our way to a truth so critical to our welfare in the hereafter would hardly make us the butt of crude practical jokes, or allow gross mis-tranlations of his word to bamboozle generations of true believers. However, logical thought and open-mindedness are not strong suits of Christian true believers. They have simply come up with a host of “interpretations” of these contradictory genealogies to “make them right.” The interested reader can find an example here.

Another famous historical example, cited by Voltaire, among others, is the difficulty with the description of a “firmament” in the King James Version of the Bible. Early civilizations commonly believed that the sun, moon, stars and other heavenly bodies were set in a solid, crystalline shell, or “firmament.” That such a version of the firmament was exactly what the author or authors of Genesis had in mind seems obvious on the face of if to anyone who actually reads the book. For example, we read in Genesis 1:4, that it acts as a barrier, and there are waters above the firmament, placing the heavenly bodies beneath this body of water. According to Genesis 1:17, the stars are set in the firmament.

Thanks to Project Apollo, and a few other inconvenient interventions of reality, later generations of true believers didn’t have the luxury of standing pat on the firmament theory. No matter. They simply hand-waved it out of existence by mistranslating “firmament” as “sky.” This was a bit much to swallow for some of the more erudite and honest among the faithful. Christian evangelist Paul Seely is a case in point. He has given us a wonderful commentary on the historical facts relating to the notion of a firmament in many cultures, complete with observations on the original Hebrew as well as the later translations into Greek and English. He demonstrates conclusively that a solid firmament is precisely what is meant in the book of Genesis. Alas, Mr. Seely is a faithful Christian, and so had no trouble squaring the circle his philological inquiries had revealed. He concludes his paper with the observation that, “Certainly the historical-grammatical meaning of (the Hebrew word) raqiac is ‘the ordinary opinion of the writer’s day.’ Certainly also it is not the purpose of Gen 1: 7 to teach us the physical nature of the sky, but to reveal the creator of the sky. Consequently, the reference to the solid firmament ‘lies outside the scope of the writer’s teachings’ and the verse is still infallibly true.” (!!) Faith will always find a way.

Not surprisingly, this rather startling conclusion was rather too much of a mental double back flip for believers of lesser intellectual agility among fellow fundamentalists. They chose, predictably, to rearrange reality to get rid of the pesky firmament in the time-honored fashion noted above. Examples abound, and a few of them can be found here and here. Google “Genesis firmament” and you will find many more.

Of course, the book of Genesis also has a serious issue with the disconnect between its version of the earth’s age, at 6,000 years, give or take, and the fact that vast numbers of heavenly bodies have been discovered so far away from us that it took light thousands of times that long to reach us, and yet we see them nevertheless. There is an interesting discussion of the subject here. A slam-dunk for science say you? Wrong again, oh ye of little faith, For the fundamentalist, the Bible is, a priori, the absolute truth. For one who is determined to believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and the absolute truth against all odds, no evidence to the contrary will ever suffice. You see, facts that seem to contradict the Bible simply can’t be true. One accommodates them very easily, by simply readjusting reality.

I know! The same thought has occurred to me. We are living in an insane asylum. Occasionally I am bothered a little by the reflection that I, too, am a human being, just like the fundamentalists who have these fanciful notions. How much superior to them could I really be in matters of intellect? After all, we both belong to the same species. For that matter, if I glance about the asylum once again, I may discover a host of atheist “fundamentalists” with ideological notions that, though secular, are as inaccessible to reason as the faith of a theist. Well, enough of this. I’m not ready to turn myself in at the front desk just yet.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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