Sunday, December 7, 2008

Religious Creation Stories – Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

This earth, our home, is a small blue-green planet, orbiting a minor star on one arm of a galaxy called the Milky Way. A galaxy is composed of gas, dust and many millions of stars and there are some hundred thousand galaxies in the known Universe.

It is now believed that, at a certain time in the past, which can be calculated as roughly 14 Billion years ago, all the matter and energy in the Universe was concentrated in a mathematical point with zero volume from which it burst out in one 'Big Bang' to create the Universe.

After the Big Bang the Universe began to cool and clouds of gas collapsed under the pull of their own gravity, to form starts. About 4500 million years ago the Earth condensed out of the gas and dust swirling around our star, the sun.

Fossil records show that the first signs of life appeared soon after - about 4000 million years ago.

Over millions of years, different forms of life have evolved; some species existed briefly then died out, others became extinct after millions of years.

This is a brief synopsis of what we know of how the universe & earth was formed.

So which religion is it that has a story which most closely resembles the known scientific facts about the creation of the earth & mankind?

Which belief system has the most accurate cosmological myth?

Contrastingly which religion, has a story which least resembles the true formation of the earth, space and all living things?

The results are surprising.

Here’s the score-card, I’ll be teacher and mark the credibility of each in points out of 10 (denoted in red).

As briefly as I can make them……….

AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS: In the beginning the earth was a bare plain. All was dark. There was no life, no death. The sun, the moon, and the stars slept beneath the earth. All the eternal ancestors slept there, too, until at last they woke themselves out of their own eternity and broke through to the surface. When the eternal ancestors arose, in the Dreamtime, they wandered the earth, sometimes in animal form -- as kangaroos, or emus, or lizards -- sometimes in human shape, sometimes part animal and human, sometimes as part human and plant. Two such beings, self-created out of nothing, were the Ungambikula. Wandering the world, they found half-made human beings. They were made of animals and plants, but were shapeless bundles, lying higgledy-piggledy, near where water holes and salt lakes could be created. The people were all doubled over into balls, vague and unfinished, without limbs or features. With their great stone knives, the Ungambikula carved heads, bodies, legs, and arms out of the bundles. They made the faces, and the hands and feet. At last the human beings were finished. Thus every man and woman was transformed from nature and owes allegiance to the totem of the animal or the plant that made the bundle they were created from -- such as the plum tree, the grass seed, the large and small lizards, the parakeet, or the rat. This work done, the ancestors went back to sleep. Some of them returned to underground homes, others became rocks and trees. The trails the ancestors walked in the Dreamtime are holy trails. Everywhere the ancestors went, they left sacred traces of their presence -- a rock, a waterhole, a tree. For the Dreamtime does not merely lie in the distant past, the Dreamtime is the eternal Now. Between heartbeat and heartbeat, the Dreamtime can come again.

I tried my best to be charitable, but exercise requires some objectivity and this story is exactly that, a story, and a poor one at that. I did however like the concept of a dream-time, so that factor alone meant they got half a point [ 1.5 ]

BUDDHIST: The Buddhist view is that everything emanates from the Primordial expanse of Openness Clarity Sensitivity and is illusion like- never really coming into existence, but the illusion is created by infinite intricate connections that are not anywhere and not in time. Time and space are part of the illusion that is emanating from that Primordial expanse - so it is all very mysterious. From the Buddhist perspective there is no problem with life on earth having evolved somehow - but evolution is not in itself a full story or full account of life on earth.

It’s a bit vague I have to say, but the mere mention of ‘primordial’ is an attention grabber. ‘Time’ and ‘space’ are also sure winners & bound to get a tick. [4.0]

CHRISTIANITY: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a 2nd day. And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a 3rd day. And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the 2 great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a 4th day. And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a 5th day. And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds; cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after 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 earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And 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." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which 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. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a 6th day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the 7th day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the 7th day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the 7th day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.

Phew, the writers of The Bible went into a lot of detail, more it has to be said to other major religions, but quantity is not what we are after here – it’s quality. It’s all about God, this God that, short on scientific substance, and factually way off the mark. [Mark of 2.5, for effort alone]

CHINESE TAOISM: In the beginning of time, there was only chaos. The elements and gases of the heavens and earth freely mingled, and the organizing principle was dormant. It lay dormant somewhere inside this elemental cosmos, awaiting the right moment to begin the transformation. The shape of this primeval mass was something like an egg. For 18,000 years the universe remained in this state, until the incubation was finally complete, and the egg hatched. Then the heavens and the earth came into existence. The lighter, most pure substances floated upward and became the heavens. These elements were named yang. The heavier, more impure substances descended and became the earth. These were named yin. From the same forces, a third, the giant Pan Ku, was born as well. As he grew, his sheer size divided the heavens and the earth. The giant lived for another 18,000 years. With the assistance of four creatures, a tortoise, a phoenix, a dragon, and a unicorn, he labored daily to mold the earth. Together they created the world as we know it today.When Pan Ku finally died, his body was transformed. His left eye became the sun and his right eye became the moon. His blood became the rivers and oceans, his breath became the wind, his sweat became the rain, and his voice became the thunder. His flesh became the soil, and from the fleas living on his body, the human race sprang into being. In this way, the stage was set for the pageant of history to unfold.

Cosmos, transformation – this is more like it fellas. One an almost forget the rubbish about Pan Ku, right eye and the 18,000 business when you finally get supplied detail which means something to house-dweller as opposed to a cave-dweller [ Mark of 4 ]

HINDU: Before this time began, there was no heaven, no earth and no space between. A vast dark ocean washed upon the shores of nothingness and licked the edges of the night. A giant cobra floated on the waters. Asleep within its endless coils lay the Lord Vishnu. He was watched over by the mighty serpent. Everything was so peaceful and silent that Vishnu slept undisturbed by dreams or motion. From the depths a humming sound began to tremble, Aum. It grew and spread, filling the emptiness and throbbing with energy. The night had ended, Vishnu awoke. As the dawn began to break, from Vishnu’s navel grew a magnificent lotus flower. In the middle of the blossom sat Vishnu’s servant, Brahma. He awaited the Lord’s command. Vishnu spoke to his servant: ‘It is time to begin.’ Brahma bowed. Vishnu commanded: ‘Create the World.’ A wind swept up the waters. Vishnu and the serpent vanished. Brahma remained in the lotus flower, floating and tossing on the sea. He lifted up his arms and calmed the wind and the ocean. Then Brahma split the lotus flower into three. He stretched one part into the heavens. He made another part into the earth. With the third part of the flower he created the skies. The earth was bare. Brahma set to work. He created grass, flowers, trees and plants of all kinds. To these he gave feeling. Next he created the animals and the insects to live on the land. He made birds to fly in the air and many fish to swim in the sea. To all these creatures, he gave the senses of touch and smell. He gave them power to see, hear and move. The world was soon bristling with life and the air was filled with the sounds of Brahma’s creation.

I’m giving this a mark of three [ 3.0] based on the mention of a single significant marker – ‘energy’. Had ‘the vast ocean’ bit been expanded on I would have given it an extra half. Better than average.

MUSLIM/ISLAMIC: In the time before time, God was. And when God wants to create something, all he needs to say is "Be", and it becomes. So it was that God created the world and the heavens. He made all the creatures, which walk, swim. Crawl and fly on the face of the earth. He made the angels, and the sun, moon and the stars to dwell in the universe. And consider, as the Qur'an says, how God poured down the rain in torrents, and broke up the soil to bring forth the corm, the grapes and other vegetation; the olive and the palm, the fruit trees and the grass. Then it was that God ordered the angels to go to the earth, and to bring seven handfuls of soil, all of different colours, from which he could model man. God took the seven kinds of earth and moulded them into a model of a man. He breathed life and power into it, and it immediately sprang to life. And this first man was called Adam. God took Adam to live in Paradise. In Paradise, God created Eve, the first woman, from out of Adam's side. God taught Adam the names of all the creatures, and then commanded the angel to bow down before Adam. But Iblis, one amongst the angels, refused to do this, and thus began to disobey God's will. God place the couple in a beautiful garden in Paradise, telling them that they could eat whatever they wanted except the fruit of on forbidden tree, But the evil one tempted them to disobey God, and eat the fruit. When God knew that Adam and Eve had disobeyed him, he cast them out of Paradise and sent them to earth. But God is merciful. The earth was created to give food, drink and shelter to the human race. The sun, moon and stars give light. It is a good world, where everything has been created to serve people. And people, the Qur'an teaches, should serve God.

For the 2nd largest religion the authors of the Qur’an didn’t spend a hell of a lot of time writing on creation, so they are appropriately marked-down. Much like their major theist rivals, nothing here ties-in with what we know to be fact. [ 2.0 Poor effort all round, can do better]

NEW ZEALAND MAORI: Heaven and earth were once joined as Ranginua, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, lay together in a tight embrace. They had many children who lived in the darkness between them. These children grew and discussed amongst themselves what it would be like to live in the light. Tu-matauenga, the fiercest of the children said: 'Let us kill our parents and then we can live always in light.' In Polynesian mythology (specifically: Maori), Rangi is the sky father, wife of the Earth Mother, Papa. ... The Earth Mother is a motif that appears in many mythologies. ... But Tane Mahuta his brother disagreed: 'No, there is no need to kill them, we can just push them apart, then our Father the Sky can be above us to watch over us and our Mother can be below to nurture us.' All the other children agreed to this except Tawhiri-matea, the Son who was in charge of Storm and Wind; he was sad at the idea that the parents would be torn apart.The others put their plans into action: Rongo-ma-tane, the god of cultivated crops and food tried to push his parents apart, then Tangaroa the god of the sea and his sibling Haumia-tikitiki, the god of food which grows without being cultivated, joined him. In spite of their joint efforts, Rangi and Papa remained close together in a loving embrace. In Polynesian mythology (specifically: Samoa), Tangaroa (or Tagaloa) is the sea god, a son of Rangi and Papa, whom he forcibly separated from each other. ...Finally, Tane Mahuta, the god of forests and insects tried, but instead of standing upright and pushing with his hands as his brothers had done, he lay on his back and pushed with strong feet. Stretching every sinew, Tane pushed and pushed until with cries of grief and surprise, Ranginui and Papatuanuku were prised apart. Tawhiri-matea could not bear to hear the cries of his parents, nor see the tears of the Sky Father at the parting, so he created great storms and winds and promised his siblings that from henceforth, they would have to contend with his wrath. He joined his father in the sky from where he periodically punishes the earth and sea with his violent storms.Rangi and Papa continue to grieve for each other to this day. Rangi's tears fall towards Papatuanuku to show how much he loves her. Sometimes Papatuanuku heaves and strains and almost breaks herself apart to reach her beloved partner again but it is to no avail.When mist rises from the forests, these are Papa's sighs as the warmth of her body yearns for him and continues to nurture mankind.

I’ve read this a few times, attempted ‘to pick the bones’ and come –up empty handed. [ 1.5 ]

So there you have it.

It’s a photo finish between Taoism and Buddhism.

The rest of the field is left trailing well behind.

Overall though, it’s a fairly easy exercise to discredit all these religious creation myths en masse.
Vagueness & ambiguity are the universal threads of creationist stories, and deities of many colours invariably get all the credit for ‘life the universe and everything’. Credit is given where, it is not due.

It’s easy to see there are also no indication, the authors of these stories had any grasp of the sciences (biology, physics, geology, cosmology etc) necessary to ascertain the true origins.

Although few & far between, any similarities between the true origins of how the universe, Earth, mankind etc came into being, and religious myths – must be put down to share coincidence.

Interesting co-incidences, none the less.

No comments: