Thursday, January 20, 2011

Biblical Analysis: The Image of God / Religion vs. Science

The other day, I was reading about the fall of man in Genesis 3. There I noticed something for the first time.
22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3: 22-23

It is only after man comes to know good and evil that God states that we are like God. This struck me as odd, and perhaps profound. I thought there must be some other verse that talks about man being created in the image of God, though, or this would have already been part of my common knowledge. Indeed, had I started at the beginning, I would have read:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

Naturally, I then read Genesis 1-3 entirely. Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3 seems to be a nice overview of God's creation of the Earth. Genesis 2:4 on appears to me to be a more detailed explanation of the creation of man and his Fall. It starts by establishing the time period as before there were plants, and before Man:
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. Genesis 2:4-8

I'm not particularly concerned with the fact that this passage implies that man came before plants and animals, whereas Genesis 1 has plants and animals coming before man. What is important for this discussion, anyway, is that chapters 2 and 3 appear to be expanding upon the outline given in chapter 1. Thus, God stating that man has become like us by learning good and evil in Genesis 3 (and not earlier, when creating man in Genesis 2) seems to be connected to God creating man in His own image in Genesis 1.

My next step was to look for some more-official word on the subject. You may have noticed that the citation links above use, which is my preferred site for looking up and reading passages. However, has more information if you're wanting to understand things. I'm especially impressed by the Parallel Commentaries section below all the translations of the verse. The relevant verse, and link, today is Genesis 3:22.

A few relevant commentary excerpts:
[1] The moral effect lay rather in the conduct of man in regard to the tree, as a thing prohibited. The result of his conduct, whether in the way of obedience or disobedience to the divine command, was to be the knowledge of good and evil. If man had obeyed, he would have come to this knowledge in a legitimate way. For he would have perceived that distrust of God and disobedience to his will, as they were externally presented to his view in the suggestions of the tempter, were evil; and that confidence and obedience, internally experienced in himself in defiance of such suggestions, were good. And this was the germ of the knowledge of good and evil. But, by disregarding the express injunction of his Maker with respect to this tree, he attained to the knowledge of good and evil in an unlawful and fatal way. He learned immediately that he himself was the guilty party, whereas, before, he was free from guilt; and thus became aware, in his own person and to his own condemnation, of good and evil, as distinct and opposite qualities.
[2] Behold, the man is become as one of us - On all hands this text is allowed to be difficult, and the difficulty is increased by our translation, which is opposed to the original Hebrew and the most authentic versions. The Hebrew has ??? hayah, which is the third person preterite tense, and signifies was, not is. The Samaritan text, the Samaritan version, the Syriac, and the Septuagint, have the same tense. These lead us to a very different sense, and indicate that there is an ellipsis of some words which must be supplied in order to make the sense complete. A very learned man has ventured the following paraphrase, which should not be lightly regarded: "And the Lord God said, The man who was like one of us in purity and wisdom, is now fallen and robbed of his excellence; he has added ???? ladaath, to the knowledge of the good, by his transgression the knowledge of the evil;
[3] behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; which is generally understood as an irony or sarcasm at man's deception by Satan
[4] The words of Jehovah, "The man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil," contain no irony, as though man had exalted himself to a position of autonomy resembling that of God; for "irony at the expense of a wretched tempted soul might well befit Satan, but not the Lord." Likeness to God is predicated only with regard to the knowledge of good and evil, in which the man really had become like God.

The second quote is nice in that it attempts to go back to the original language(s) in order to get accurate information. It may be that the original would not be so confusing for me. There are a lot of missing words added back in, however, and the completed phrasing is not definitive. The first quote strikes me as unfounded speculation, though it also sounds pretty good from a literary standpoint. The third and fourth quotes aggravated me by disagreeing on whether or not God is being sarcastic.

Which brings me to the second part of this post's title, and the more important to me, overall. If you want to know more about a theological issue in Christianity, you basically only have the Bible as a source. There are many different interpretations, and many different conclusions reached based on those interpretations. But, there is only the one source to go to, ultimately. I imagine it is a similar situation for Judaism and Islam. It seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to establish their religion, or their interpretation thereof, as absolutely correct. It also appears that we can't count on any new, illuminating "Word of God"-type messages to be forthcoming.

Science, too, has many different theories, some of which are in conflict. There is ongoing debate among proponents of each of these theories. There is evidence that people try to fit theories to, and there are some that pervert science and try and fit the facts to their theories. The important thing is that you can always gather more evidence to test a theory. You can repeat experiments, design entirely new ones, or try to find logical inconsistencies in the mathematics. There is more than one (ancient) source as the basis for science, and new sources are welcomed (at least by legitimate scientists), even if only to tear them apart. Similarly for new theories - they are welcomed as long as they are actually scientific (falsifiable).

Please note that I am not saying science and religion are incompatible. I am merely trying to explain the difficulty I have in believing in any one religion, and why science offers me more believable explanations for the world being as it is. I freely admit that many of my explanations are currently in the "not enough information yet" category. Including what exactly is meant by man being created in the likeness of God versus now being like God after knowing good and evil, if that's even a correct translation.