I’m an atheist, thank God!

My father grew up in a tiny town on the Canadian prairies. His father, his family, his youth represented a salt of the earth type of scenario: hard working people of faith tilling the soil. As such, when my father became a parent, he followed a path dictated by his own up-bringing. From an early age, while my parents attended church every Sunday, I would participate in Sunday School, this organized class of children led by a lay person with the objective of studying the Bible. While I do not remember ever hearing the word creationism, I do remember this somewhat strict adherence to the study of the Bible and a somewhat literal interpretation of its texts.

However, other non Sunday School sources of reading materials began to play an important part in what I thought; so important in fact, I began asking questions at Sunday School. I discovered that these questions did not fit into the prescribed curriculum and always netted me a standard response of them not being part of the programme. What to do? How to correlate the ideas I was discovering out of Sunday School with the ideas being presented to me in Sunday School?

At this time, I was approximately 12 years old, I was reading a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury and was particularly fascinated by the story "A Sound of Thunder". Without going into the details, the central idea was about going back in time to the period of the dinosaurs. Elsewhere I had read about dinosaurs and found the various drawings of these gigantic creatures to capture the imagination of this young boy. The problem with dinosaurs was that they existed according to science millions of years before our time while the Bible seemed to show that the world was only about 6 thousand years old. If the world was only 6,000 years old, how could dinosaurs have existed millions of years ago?

Years later, in clearing up the estate of my parents after they died and was cleaning out the house, I ran across the "family Bible". I could remember this weighty volume as the de facto source of religious teachings, all the more holy by its size and weight. At the top of every page, was marked the associated year based on the time of Jesus Christ, showing either B.C. or A.D. I had never forgotten that at the top of the page where one found Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1, you could see 4004. That is, the world was created in 4,004 B.C.

At the same time, at school, astronomy was part of the curriculum. I found the study of the planets, the sun, the Milky Way to be very interesting as this seemed to correlate quite nicely with the ideas I was presented with while reading science fiction. I could argue that the secular school system played a role in disenchanting me about biblical studies.

Within the study of astronomy, I discovered that the concept of a "day" varies from planet to planet. While the Earth spins on its axis approximately every 24 hours, Mars has a rotation of 24 hours and almost 40 minutes, Jupiter under 10 hours and Mercury rotates every 59 days. The concept of a day led me to the concept of a year, the period of time to orbit around the sun. While the Earth orbits around the sun every year, 365 days, Jupiter takes almost 12 Earth years, Neptune takes 165 years and Mercury only needs 88 days.

Obviously, while we here on Earth talk about a "day" and a "year", these ideas are only relative to the Earth, the planet upon which we live. There are other circumstances where the ideas of day and year are totally different.

Back to this conundrum of the Bible and dinosaurs. Genesis stated that God made the Earth in 6 days. Dinosaurs seemed to have lived millions of years ago. Was there a way of associating 2 ideas which seemed not just disparate, but conflicted with one another?

Suddenly, it occurred to me. What if a day for God was not the same as our day? What if God’s day was not 24 hours, but millions, maybe billions of years long? Jupiter takes 12 Earth years to circle the sun. If I was 3 years old on Jupiter, I would actually be 36 years old on Earth. If one of God’s days was, let’s say a billion years, that could mean that when God made the Earth in 6 days, 6 of "His" days, He actually took 6 billion Earth years.

I remember that I was stunned. Now it all made sense. It made sense how God made the Earth in 6 days, how dinosaurs existed a long time ago, how there was no contradiction between the Bible and science. I wanted to bring this up in Sunday School. I was excited; I had a revelation to share; I had managed to solve a mystery! However, disappointment was just around the corner. The Sunday School teacher politely listened a bit then told me we all had to follow the prescribed programme and talking around the orbits and rotations of the planets to explain "God’s day" did not fit in.

Needless to say, this was the beginning of the end for me; the start of my disenchantment with not just Sunday School, but religion in general. Eventually I dropped out of Sunday School… well, I first played hooky quite a bit then managed to convince my father that I would no longer even go to church. I’ve never gone back.

Click HERE to read more columns by William Belle.

 
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