Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Creature After God's Kind

God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. The land produced vegetation – plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:11-12

The word 'kinds' in Genesis 1 is not analogous to the modern biological categories Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, or Species. This would be a foreign concept to the Afro-Asiatics whose religious worldview frames Genesis. The Hebrew word is מִין, min which is often translated ‘type.’ The Hebrew min has other uses, as in the phrase "from a man" – מִן אָדָם (min āḏām).

The meaning of ‘kinds’ is tied to the ancient Afro-Asiatic observation of the binary character of the order of creation. In Genesis 1 the distinction is between Heaven as the dwelling place of the Creator and Earth as the dwelling place of creatures. In the order of creation, humans are the most like God, but their dwelling place is earth. In Genesis 3:8 we are told that God came to earth (to the garden) to commune with those who He created in His Image. In the New Testament we are told that Christ, the Son of God, has come again to earth to restore communion with God the Father.

The word ‘kinds’ simply points to the observable reality that there are many non-human creatures on earth and all as a group are distinct from the Creator in Heaven. In Genesis the term ‘kind’ is used in reference to only 3 categories: vegetation (verse 12); birds and sea creatures (verse 21) and creatures that inhabit the dry ground (verse 25). This is significant because the number 3 in Genesis always indicates unity or ontological oneness. So vegetation, birds, sea creatures and land creatures share in a unity to which humans are peripheral. We recognize that this is so because the word ‘kinds’ is not used in reference to humans in Genesis 1. Why?

Because our communion is with the Triune Creator, in whose Image we are made. The Psalmist recognized this when he asks “What is man (Enock/Nok) that thou art mindful of him and the son of man (ben adam) that you care for him? For a time you have made him less than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor and put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:4-8). The Church Fathers teach that this speaks of the Son of God who emptied Himself and became flesh and dwelt on earth as one of us. The Creator became Man so that after a time, He could restore man's original state, as the creature made after God's kind.

This is why before His death and resurrection, Jesus prayed that those who believe in Him as the Son of God would be 'in Him' as He is in the Father (John 17). Jesus was praying for a restoration of the original order.

For more on this go here and read the comments.


Mairnéalach said...

Lovely reflections, and enlightening, as always. "Among the animals, there was found no helper suitable for him"-- which dovetails in with your explanation of animal unity vs. human/Trinitarian unity.

However, I still maintain that these scriptural texts, understood in light of the ancient ideas which you so ably illuminate, do not eliminate the possibility of very great morphology in the biota -- in other words, evolution. These things would not constitute "essential change", only ephemeral change.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Evolution is a loaded term and is used in different ways, often not clarified by the user, so that we end up talking past each other. I try to avoid using the term because it isn't helpful unless we agree on a precise definition before we begin discussion. If by evolution one means 'change over time', what is the nature of the change? Are we speaking of change from one essence to another? Say from a frog to a camel? Or are we speaking of flux, as in the range of cameloids: alpacas, guanacos, llamas, and vicunas? Are we to assume that humans are subject to the same change over time as non-human creatures since we have reason to believe that humans are in a unique position?

I agree that the Bible doesn't eliminate the idea of change/flux over time. But the ancient Afro-Asiatics who gave us these sacred texts believed that the order of creation was fixed by God and they based this on observation of life on earth and the clock-like movement of the constellations and planets. Perhaps this is what you mean when you speak of 'ephemeral change'?

You are really stretching me here, Mairnealach, and I thank you for being such an engaging reader! :)

Mairnéalach said...

Yes- competing definitions are an ostacle for us. For clarification then, I will try to use your own terms "essential change" and "flux".

This is where we disagree: I believe that change from frog to camel is an example of flux, not essential change. Why do I say this?

Firstly, because the scriptures do not define "essential" in a way which proscribes this level of change. (That was the point of my last comments about genus, order, species, etc.)

Secondly, the scriptures speak of creatures as being brought forth from the earth, and animated by the Spirit. They even lump men and beasts together in the Noachic covenant. The definitions tend to be spiritual and covenantal, rather than visible.

I believe it is a mistake to preclude evolution "from frog to camel" based on these visible categories, because they somehow seem more Platonic to me than scriptural. They seem like categories that we impose on the text, rather than draw from it.

However, the ancient insight which you point out -- that at some fundamental level, creation cannot change -- still seems sound to me, and I continue to wonder how to apply that insight.

Perhaps we should understand it spiritually; for example, "The leopard cannot change his spots" should not mean that a feline body type cannot change into something startlingly different over many years. It should rather mean that we should wisely expect beasts--and people--to act "according to their natures". Keeping in mind that the cross, with its accompanying "circumcision of the heart", teaches us that natures are capable of changing, but only by divine action.

Alice C. Linsley said...

There is a tendency when we have trouble explaining things to divide or separate the spiritual and the material, but that also divides the work of Jesus Christ. The writers of teh Bible rejected this view, insisting that the soul (nephesh) and the living being wer a unity. So on the last day the dead shall rise and as our friend Job declares, see Him in the flesh.

You raise a question that interests me greatly. You wrote: "I believe it is a mistake to preclude evolution 'from frog to camel' based on these visible categories, because they somehow seem more Platonic to me than scriptural. They seem like categories that we impose on the text, rather than draw from it."
I've been wondering why we assign the concept of Forms to Plato and never wonder about their antecedents. Did Plato invent this? I hardly think so. Much of Classical Civilization appears to be influenced by ancient African thought and practices, in particular through Egypt. I'm investigating this line of research at the present.

As to the range of flux or evolutionary change, that's determined more on the genetic level than on the adaptation level and each genome has fixed boundaries beyond which the organism can't develop. There are anomalies, of course, but we recognize anomolies exactly because they depart from the norm.

Again, another wonderfully stimulating comment, Mairnealach.