Contradictions in Genesis and the Irrational Cognitive Style

In Genesis 2:18-19, the Bible says that Yahweh feels that it is not good that man should be alone and so, out of the ground, Yahweh formed the animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. But in Genesis 1:25-26, it says that the Elohim (same god?) makes the wild animals, the livestock, etc., then makes mankind. 

In the first chapter, the story is that the gods (Elohim) create men after creating all other life. Note the plural language. In the second chapter, Yahweh (a war god who later becomes god of the cosmos) creates one man then creates all other life. These are two (relatively) independent myths, each developed during different times and places, which the person or persons who produced the book of Genesis combined into one story.

Why would the author(s) of Genesis fail to manufacture a consistent story of creation? Perhaps, in unifying a Jewish kingdom or government, competing tribal factions had to be brought together through compromise, part of which resulted in one book retaining key differences in alleged cosmological and historical events. One finds similar contradictions throughout Genesis, each seemingly traceable back to either the followers of the Elohim or the followers of Yahweh.

In my house, the Bible sat alongside Bulfinch’s mythology. The events of the Bible had the same quality as events in Greek or Norse mythology, fictional accounts that everybody around me knew could only be mythic, in part because of the obvious contradictions. Yet, as far as I knew, everyone around me believed the Hebrew mythology was true and that the other myths were false. The rejection of the many myths in favor of the one, despite the fact that none of the myths were consistent or plausible, told me that religious belief was the result of something other than rational thought. An irrational cognitive style allows believers to manage contradiction.

I now know that religious belief is a product of time and place, socialization, and life experiences. People believe what they believe because they are part of a community that compels a certain set of beliefs and/or because belief has brought them some peace. Part of liberating one’s mind from the force of the community and bad inference is learning to see all religious systems as merely myth and ritual. There is nothing specially profound about the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish myths. They occupy our space and time because of historical trajectories and the power of certain groups to define realities.

I realize that many of you already know these things. I don’t write these things believing that I am articulating novel arguments. My readers are smart people. I do this because we are all in need of arguments when we go about the task of enlightenment and maybe something I write will help somebody.

I also know that readers of my posts sometimes wonder why an atheist spends any time at all discussing religion. I wish I did not have to. But if future generations are to be free of supernatural belief and superstitious action, then I am obliged to critique that which has been forced on me and my children. Religion is very damaging to human freedom and the cause of much sorrow and suffering in the world. I have to openly oppose it—and tell people that I do.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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