Barry Newman's Blog

November 20, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part XV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 8:42 pm

What aspects of the world do Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 cover?

This is a difficult question to answer.  One of the problems is being able to correctly identify what was intended by the use of certain words. Furthermore, we will be tempted to approach the question with our modern understandings of the nature of the world in mind but the author, given the language used, works with concepts that belong to his world.  None the less in spite of these difficulties some attempt to answer the question will be given. 

As argued earlier, the preamble to Day 1 seems like an introductory summary with the creation account working from a “watery mass” already in existence.  If this view is correct, then from a modern perspective some aspects of the “stuff” of the cosmos are not taken account of in Days 1 to 6. Is the reference to light in Day 1 meant to cover all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, dark energy (whatever that might be), and light produced from fire and luminescent objects?  Not likely!  In Day 2 reference is made to the “raqia” and water on the other side of it, neither of which we now believe exists.  In Day 3, it appears that we have a different understanding of how land is distributed around the earth to that of the author but certainly dry land makes its appearance.  It is also probable that his understanding of the nature of sea and its association with rivers, lakes and springs is quite different to ours. The reference to vegetation seems to focus on two types of plant life and presumably mosses and liverworts, for example, and not caught up in their description.  Day 4 refers to the stars and such a term may have included planets and even comets and meteors. However do we believe that the writer had in mind that the stars could also refer to galactic systems?  There is some evidence that in the ancient world, the stars were considered to be very tiny objects.  Is there any reference in Day 4 to “dark matter” (whatever that may be) or that the universe appears to be expanding and currently at an increasing rate?  Day 5 mentions water dwellers, some of which are described as “great sea animals” and others as “moving living creatures that swarm”.  Are sponges, molluscs, echinoderms, jelly fish, amphibians, and water dwelling flatworms, roundworms and arthropods meant to be included?  It is difficult to believe so. Reference is also made to winged birds.  The Israelites knew about grasshoppers, flies and bees but they along with other flying insects don’t seem to be included here. On Day 6 reference is made to living creatures according to their kind with focus placed upon, what Walton describes (see Genesis, p. 127) as, “domesticated animals …, wild herd animals that often serve as prey …, and wild, predatory animals”.  These are respectively, “behemah”, “remes” and “chay”, terms difficult to tie down too explicitly.  They may take different connotations depending upon their context both in terms of the language and the subject matter.  The “remes” is often mentioned in connection with the earth or the ground and carrying with it the basic notion of a “mover” it may sometimes refer to small animals, slithering animals etc.  The reference to “all the movers of the ground” and “all the ‘movers’ ‘moving’ on the earth” in 1: 25, 26 may be a reference to more than “wild herd animals” or “roaming herds”. In Leviticus 11: 44, the “swarming ‘mover’ on the earth” probably includes a reference to the locust.  Are we meant to see a reference to, for example, spiders and centipedes included in the term, “the movers” in Genesis 1: 25, 26? Whatever the range of living creatures these terms are meant to embrace, it is difficult to believe that the author had in mind the kangaroo, the echidna or the aardvark. And where in the Genesis account are we meant to find the microscopic land based or water borne animals and plants, and the viruses etc.?  This catalogue of questions is not meant to poke fun at the Genesis account.  One is simply giving recognition to its cultural and temporal context.  It could be argued that God had all these things in mind, though the author might not have. But would we want to argue that God was restricted in his understanding to any taxonomic system or that he had a belief in a solid sky?

One of the many intriguing aspects of the creation account is the absence of any reference to carnivores.  There are a number of possible explanations.  Some argue that some animals only became carnivores after the disastrous events portrayed in Genesis 3.  There is no direct evidence in Genesis that such a situation developed although one might argue that it is implied.  As another possibility, the author may have been ignorant of the existence of carnivores though that is highly unlikely.  Another alternative is that the author simply chose to exclude any reference to carnivores in his account of what happened on Day 6 though he knew they had been created on that Day.  A fourth possibility is one that partly involves the first and third alternatives.  The author could have decided to purposefully idealise the situation so that death didn’t make its appearance in any form in the creation account.  (Plants, not being considered to be living creatures didn’t die either as part of their natural existence or upon being consumed by the animals and mankind.)  My own view is that the last suggestion is the most likely.

If we ask the question did the author cover all that he thought was necessary, we probably should reply, “Of course”.  He used his categories, his understanding, his language and what he considered important to the reader to convey the general idea that beginning where he began, God made the world and everything in it.  Were we to confront our ancient author with, to him imponderables like, “phytoplankton”, “rotifer”, “bacteria”, trilobites, brachiopods, dinosaurs, “neutron stars”, black holes and quasars, provided we could give him some understanding of such, he would undoubtedly say, yes, they are of God’s creation. 

The Genesis account contains a number of extremely important truths.  For starters it denies much of the belief about the world, mankind and the gods held by others in surrounding cultures, perhaps especially that culture of the Babylonian world, though it may never have been used as a tract to attack those beliefs head on.  If it is to be regarded as a polemical document, it is probably more polemical by implication than in more direct ways.  It would have served the people of Israel directly in teaching them what was correct about God, the world and mankind, rather than having as its chief focus the teaching of what was false about the beliefs of their neighbours.  All up however it would have informed, corrected and warned.  In broad terms, the document teaches that whatever one conceives of as being this world and of this world, God has made it all.  And all that God has made has its role, its place its function as God has determined.  Of all that he has created, mankind, created in his image, is of extreme significance and in God’s kindeness the world has the character that it does in order for mankind to live in it in an appropriate way With the creation of mankind God has brought his creation to completion.  And now the scene is set for God’s interactions with mankind and for his purposes involving mankind to unfold.

(To be continued)

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2 Comments »

  1. I agree, Barry, that carnivores are not directly referenced in the creation account but I would say that it is for good reason on several counts:

    1. There was no death before the Fall – “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). I take “death” in its widest sense not just spiritual death and not just death of a human. My reading would be that there was no death in an absolute sense. The first recorded death by strong inference is God sacrificial provision of the animal skin – providing salvation and forgiveness by the shedding of blood.
    2. When Isaiah glimpses heaven in the sense of a future restoration (Isaiah 65:17-25) he describes the scene of “natural” predators and prey laying together in harmony. I read this is not a mere romantic notion, nor in just the sense of reconciliation of natural enemies but rather as a restoration to their original created state before the Fall. It would seem rather strange that the Lord would draw the metaphor of heavenly perfection from a picture of restoration of things to a state different to the original state of creation.
    3. I think we walk a little heavily and not so gently on the text if entertain that the author (who is God after all who gave the words to the author) “idealised” the text by omitting the carnivores from the text. We also may tend to adopt a limited view of the Fall. Without doubt the Fall affected primarily the relation between God and man but it also affected the whole created universe as it was subject to bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-23). If the whole created universe was so affected it is not so hard to see that the creatures natural instincts would have been affected destructively too. After all we began to abandon our natural affections for sinful ones too (Romans 1:27).

    I am sure there are many other good reasons why we must maintain that definite linkage between the Fall, sin and death but these are ones that come to mind most apparently. See also James 1:13-16 which reads almost anatomically like the entrance of sin into the world at the Fall as the pathway of sin has never changed since its first appearance – and neither has the great divine remedy either. Praise the Lord.

    Comment by Richard Smith — June 14, 2011 @ 12:42 am | Reply

    • Thanks again Richard

      Barry

      Comment by barrynewman — June 14, 2011 @ 1:00 am | Reply


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