Thursday, November 15, 2007

After whose kind?

Gen 1:24 is one of those “proof texts” creationists use to claim that the Bible teaches against evolution. In the NIV this verse reads

24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so.

The creationist will say, “See, the animals reproduce after their kinds.” I have never understood how the creationists can logically attach this interpretation to Gen 1:24, since reproduction isn’t mentioned. This verse isn’t about reproduction. It’s about creation. The Lord appears to be saying "Let the land produce living creatures [according to the specifications I have in mind]” Also note that the land is being commanded to produce living creatures.

The passage gets more interesting and suggests a possible alternative interpretation when you look at other versions. The New American Standard Bible for example says:

24(A)Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so.

My NASB Open Bible flags the first “their” with a dagger, indicating that “their” has been inserted by the translators to improve readability. Another NASB footnotes the first “their” with “Literally its”. The King James Version renders 1:24 as

24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

And this raises an interesting question: Could “his” refer to the earth rather than the creature? Young’s literal translation gives some support to this idea:

24And God saith, `Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind:' and it is so.

If “its” refers to the earth, then this passage is saying that the creatures and the earth are the same kind. In other words, the creatures are made of the same elements as the earth.

Am I arguing that Genesis 1:24 supports abiogenesis? I suppose one could make that argument, but if my interpretation is correct, I believe the passage is saying something quite different. It’s saying that the creatures are material beings made from the same elements as the earth, just as the earth is a material entity. This is absolutely true. And it removes this passage from the creation/evolution controversy. This makes sense, in view of the Bible’s role as God’s letter to humanity rather than a science textbook.

Genesis 1:24 sets the stage for Genesis 2:7, in which God breaths the breath of life into the man he has made from the dust of the earth. The animals are brought forth by the earth and immediately go about their lives. Man too is made from the dust of the earth, but then an additional step takes place: God breathes the breath of life into him. Thus in a material sense, man is of the same kind (made of the same elements) as the earth, but in addition man has a spiritual component, since the Hebrew word interpreted as breath can also mean spirit.

So Genesis 1:24 and 2:7, taken together, establish that man has a spiritual component, animals don’t.

1. Later (in ~ Genesis 6) it says all creatures having the breath of life died [in the flood]. However only man’s breath of life was acquired by a direct act of God.

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