Moses 1:27–42; 2–3
This lesson treats the Hebrew creation myth, in which a god creates the universe by speaking words. The ‘creation from words’ idea is just one of the many methods that people have believed over time. Others are creation from an egg, creation from bodily fluids, and creation from dismemberment. (You can check out a lot of the other methods from this book, A Dictionary of Creation Myths by David Adams Leeming.)
But these creation stories aren’t as good as what science can offer. Here’s a creation story from a humanist perspective:
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. Recent observations show that clusters of galaxies are moving apart from one another as the space between them expands and this must mean that long ago they were closer together, It is now believed that, at a certain time in the past, which can be calculated as roughly 15000 million 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…
God could have revealed that. It’s nice, and it has the obvious advantage of being true. There’s also a skeptical creation story by Michael Shermer, which is quite funny.
Genesis 1 and 2 are interesting because they contain two parallel creation accounts. It would appear that there were two versions floating around, and the bible editors decided to include them both. This makes things a little awkward when Smith dutifully copies both down in Moses; God creates woman in Moses 2:27, and then again in Moses 3:20.
Main points from this lesson
The creation story does not match the scientific account.
The LDS lesson manual advances the idea that the creation account in Genesis matches what actually happened at some kind of coarse-grained level.
Ask class members to consider how much information they would give if they were trying to answer one of the following questions for a preschool child: How does an airplane stay in the air? How does a television set work? How do plants grow? Most of us would consider the understanding of a preschool child and give only general concepts, leaving the details until a child becomes more mature.
In other words, the story appears the way it does because people were morons then, so God had to explain things very simply. But there’s a difference between explaining things simply, and getting it just plain wrong — wrong in a way that God knew would become obvious in a few centuries. The creation story is not a good fit for what the scientific evidence shows.
Here’s the basic timeline for creation presented in Genesis (and Moses):
Day 1: Light, including day and night. But the light is coming from somewhere other than the sun and the moon, because they won’t be created until Day 4. God, doing a crackerjack job so far.
Day 2: The firmament. What’s a firmament? More on this later.
Day 3: Earth and sea. There are plants, but strangely, still no sun. How does that work? Magic.
Day 4: Finally, the sun and the moon. (The temple version swaps Days 3 and 4. Did you notice?)
Day 5: Animals, and then
Day 6: People
Unless you go on to read Genesis 2, where it’s Adam, then the animals, and then Eve.
One of the major elements of creation doesn’t exist
Ask: What’s a firmament?
Likely answer: A thing. A thing that is up. Up there. Pointing and hand-waving.
Seriously, I taught this lesson a few times, and I never thought to get into what exactly the firmament was. There was supposed to be this firmament thing on Day 2 that was meant to ‘divide the waters from the waters’, but beyond that, there was never a good explanation. Was it land, like a continent or something? No one knew.
Okay, so here’s the answer you never heard in Sunday School: The firmament was supposed to be this enormous roof type of thing over the earth, with water on top of it. That’s why it divided the waters from the waters. Water down here, water up there. That’s the firmament.
That’s not all. When it rained, the rain would come through the ‘windows of heaven’, as in Genesis 7:11. See how that works?
It gets better: the sun, moon, and stars are not light years away — they’re ‘set’ in the firmament. Yep, they’re on the inside of this roof thing. Where the rain comes from.
Ask: Are you going to get cosmological information from people who didn’t have telescopes and couldn’t even figure out why it rained?
Here’s a great chart that makes things more clear: the ancient Hebrew conception of the universe.
That’s what Moses and Genesis are describing.
I know that some people are reading this blog from church, more or less having to attend. (Oh, and the wifi password is probably ‘pioneer47‘.) So I’m giving you an assignment.
Assignment: If you’re in a real Gospel Doctrine class right now, and someone asks about the firmament, explain it to your class. Draw them a picture. It’ll be perfectly biblical, but so obviously wrong to anyone from the 21st century. Then tell how it went down in comments.
But when met with scientific explanations, surely smart successful people will accept them and abandon the religious explanations, right? Not always, and that’s our next point…
LDS Church leaders mock scientific theories about the earth
Elder Russell M. Nelson said this in a General Conference in the year 2012.
At 7:05 — Yet some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. (audience laughter) Ask yourself, “Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?” The likelihood is most remote. (emphasis in original)
Wow — I knew Mormons weren’t big on evolution, but I hadn’t realised that they were ‘big bang denialists’! That’s kicking it up a notch right there.
The ‘Big Bang’ is one of the best-attested scientific results of all time.
Short version: http://www.schoolsobservatory.org.uk/astro/cosmos/bb_evid
Long version: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html
Ask: If Nelson gets this so very wrong, how reliable is he as a source of information? What else is he getting wrong? What are his chances of getting complicated issues right?
As you might infer from the audience laughter, this institutional ignorance has flow-on effects. General authorities have opposed or been ambivalent toward evolution, and Mormons have nearly the lowest acceptance of evolution among all the religious groups in the US. They’re about half as likely to accept evolution as even other Americans.
And that’s a shame, because evolution has mountains of evidence to support it, and it’s pretty cool.
It is futile and unnecessary to harmonise science and religion.
Science has made tremendous advances, aiding our understanding of the world, the universe, medicine, and technology. At the same time, it has swept aside many religious notions. Religion used to provide a model of the earth’s history, but they are having to cede that ground and provide ’emotional comfort’ instead. However, many religious people try to shoehorn scientific discovery into their religious worldview.
Here’s Mohammed from ‘Jesus and Mo’ doing that very thing.
I found this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson quite sensible. He’s not exactly one to rush to conflict, but here he points out that all attempts to synthesise the two have failed. Religion must cede the scientific ground, and retreat to ’emotional comfort’ (which I think it does a terrible job at anyway).
Trying to wedge religion into science is unnecessary and futile. Religion and science are opposite and irreconcilable ways of understanding the world. Religions get their data from tradition, anecdote, and conjecture. Science offers a more reliable version of the history of the universe because it updates to match reality.
Additional teaching ideas
The real LDS lesson manual states that God withheld information about creation that was difficult to understand or not very important:
The Lord has revealed only that portion of eternal truth that our mortal minds can understand and that we need to know to gain salvation.
Ask: If a church promotes the idea that some information needs to be withheld for the good of its membership, how might that idea play out in other ways? How does the LDS Church withhold certain kinds of information from members and prospective members? What kinds of organisations engage in information control?
Here’s a website with statements from church leaders.
Joseph Smith: “This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broken up and remodeled and made into the one on which we live.” (January 5, 1841)
Brigham Young: “Shall I say that … the seeds of every plant composing the vegetable kingdom were brought from another world? This would be news to many of you…. When you tell me that father Adam was made as we make adobies from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale. … There is no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell. Mankind are because they are offspring of parents who were first brought here from another planet, and power was given them to propagate their species, and they are commanded to multiply and replenish the earth.”
“… Sister Eliza R. Snow … told … that she heard the Prophet say that when the ten tribes were taken away, the Lord cut the earth in two, Joseph striking his left hand in the center with the edge of his right to illustrate the idea, and that they were on an orb or planet by themselves, and when they returned with the portion of this earth that was taken away with them, the coming together of these two bodies or orbs, would cause a shock and make the earth ‘reel to and fro like a drunken man.’
“She also stated that he said the earth was now ninety times smaller than when first created or organized.” (Diary of Charles Walker, p. 691, March 10, 1881)
Before glancing at the URL, try to tell whether:
- this is an anti-Mormon site trying to make LDS doctrine look ridiculous, or
- it’s a serious page trying to educate Mormons as to the details of the creation.