Thursday, August 11, 2005

Be fruitful (Gen 1:28-31)

Apparently the next thing that God does after creating humans is give them a command to take over the world He has given them. Frankly, it occurs to me that in naming the "discrepancies" between the first two chapters, this speech is a bit of an oversight. It not only seems important enough, but quite fitting with the theme to have repeated it in the next chapter, at least as a paraphrase. The closest the Bible comes is verse 2:16, which really doesn't sound much like it at all. I guess it shows how these things are personal that the SAB has no problem with this omission. I haven't noticed one yet, but I'm sure that the SAB has noted parallel passages that feature omission of important information; it's the frosting on the skeptic's cake, really.

This speech is repeated in the story of Noah, but there, it's different, and much speculation has gone into what the differences mean, one interpretation of which the SAB notes on the following verse. The SAB does note that many Christians use this commandment to justify destroying the environment and being cruel to animals. I already commented on that in yesterday's post, but the SAB also brings up the issue of birth control.

Does "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth," mean that people are not to use birth control, but rather to breed like rabbits? There may be various views on the matter of which I'm not aware. I know the Catholic Church, the most famous for being anti-birth control is of the opinion that trying to disassociate sex from procreation is inherently wrong; that's not to say that the RCC is against sex as being recreational as well within the bounds of marriage, but that it has both facets to it, and neither should be shut out. (I'm oversimplifying here since I'm not a Catholic. If you're a Catholic reading this, please don't blast me, rather post a comment to clarify the Church's position as you understand it.) Most Protestants seem to be of the opinion that birth control is okay. While marriage and sex are concepts that are to a great extent designed with procreation in mind, that doesn't mean that having children is a requirement. A lot of it has to do with personal attitudes about child rearing, resources and other issues. If you can't afford to feed a child (or aren't willing to), it's irresponsible to not use birth control. If you think the earth is already "replenished" enough, you might choose not to have children. My opinion is that the earth could handle a higher population if we learned to use our resources better, but I don't think we have.

So, God gives us plants to eat in the next verse. This is the point that's different from the speech in Noah, where God notes that He is giving them an order/permission to eat meat. Many people have speculated that God intended man, and perhaps even all animals (from verse 30) to be vegetarians at the start. That doesn't mean that God intended us to be vegetarians for all time, however. I think at this time, the real sentiment is that eating is something that can be done without killing. That will eventually change when sin enters the picture.

It's noted that God says "every tree" is for mankind to eat, but in the following chapter, God forbids the eating of one tree in particular. Is this a contradiction? Yes and no. If you look at it from a purely grammatical standpoint, it is confusing, but I don't think it's at all intractable. I have a number of speculations on what might explain this, but I think what's really going on is this: In chapter one, when God is saying that all trees that have fruit are okay to eat, He's talking about kinds of trees. In chapter two, He's pointing out a particular tree as an exception. It's like if my wife had a rose garden, and you asked me for a rose from it, and I said, "All the roses in the garden are beautiful, and you can pick any kind of rose that you want. But the dark red rose with the yellow spots in the back corner is special to my wife, and I'd rather you don't touch that specific one." I talk more about the nature of this tree in the next chapter, or maybe chapter three, we'll see.

So God is now finished, and He notes that it's "very good". In response to this, the SAB notes, "He purposefully designed a system that ensures the suffering and death of all his creatures, parasite and host, predator and prey." I guess the idea here is that it's hard to see how this is "very good". First of all, it's really a matter of opinion as to what's good or not. Many atheists feel that the world would be better off without human beings on it, and then nature could be left to itself. If leaving nature to itself is a good thing, then the very thing which the SAB seems to be noting as a counter to the world being "very good" seems good to some atheists. I think imposing labels of "good" and "bad" on animals is sometimes a sketchy thing; I'd be hesitant to label animals' actions with human moral labels.

More importantly, I think we've forgotten the previous verse. There was no "parasite and host, predator and prey" at this time. It was really a sort of hippyish paradise with mankind and all the animals just hanging out, having a good time, eating fresh veggies and fruits. There was no death, no war, no hate, and when you think about it, no religion. Straight out of "Imagine" by John Lennon, really. At the time, it was indeed "very good". Of course, this ends chapter one, and it won't last for long...

8 comments:

Steve Wells said...

Brucker: "There was no 'parasite and host, predator and prey' at this time."

Really? Before the fall of Adam there were no predators or parasites? Where the hell did they come from? Did God create them all after Adam's "sin"? (No one knows how many species of parasites there are, but parasitologists think it likely that there are more parasitic than non-parasitic species.) Could you elaborate a bit on this?

Brucker: “I think imposing labels of "good" and "bad" on animals is sometimes a sketchy thing.”

Really? Have you ever heard of river blindness? It’s caused by a species of nematode (Onchocerca volvulus) that is carried by black flies. Millions of people are infected with it. Here’s what David Attenborough said about it.

"[T]hink of a little boy sitting on a river bank, like here, in West Africa, that's got a little worm, a living organism, in his eye and boring through the eyeball and is slowly turning him blind. The Creator God that you believe in, presumably, also made that little worm. Now I personally find that difficult to accommodate."

But I guess you don’t find it difficult, eh Ben. You agree with God when he called Onchocerca volvulus “good”. That sounds kind of sketchy to me.

Brucker said...

Parasites/predators: I believe it's a common theological position, and one that I hold myself, that after the fall, the world went through some radical changes. Sometimes I even wonder if this change concerning animals didn't come until after the flood, as that's when God condones meat-eating, but I have to admit I don't know the purpose of that particular change.

Good and bad animals: The point I was trying to make in part is that the animals themselves don't have a sense of morality apart from the frameworks we put on them. Yes, going blind because of a nematode would be a very sad thing, but you can't say the nematode is "bad" so much, as it is just doing what it does.

My feeling is that by placing such labels on animals, you're assuming that there is a being responsible for their existence who should have made a better decision than letting them be. If the creation of such creatures is not the fault of a "God", then the actions of said nematode are morally neutral. If it is the fault of God, then one has to go deeper than I'm planning to go here to understand why such a being would allow things like that in the world He created.

Steve Wells said...

“Yes, going blind because of a nematode would be a very sad thing, but you can't say the nematode is ‘bad’ so much, as it is just doing what it does.”

I agree. The nematode isn’t bad; it’s just doing what it does. But if it was purposefully designed, then the designer must have made it the way it is on purpose. And that’s bad.

“Sometimes I even wonder if this change concerning animals didn't come until after the flood….”

If the brutality of nature didn’t exist before the flood, then God would have had to specially create all of the spiders and snakes, for example, since all modern species are predators. And the parasites (which probably number over a million species) would also have to be specially designed by God after the flood. There’s no way all these species could have evolved in 4500 years.

If nature changed after the fall, then all the predators and parasites would have had to have been loaded on the ark.

Of course the fossil record shows that nature was “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning – at least for the last 500 million years or so.

“My feeling is that by placing such labels on animals, you're assuming that there is a being responsible for their existence who should have made a better decision than letting them be. If the creation of such creatures is not the fault of a "God", then the actions of said nematode are morally neutral.”

Exactly! If there is no God, the actions of the nematode are morally neutral. But if there is a God, the nematode does what he does because God wanted it that way. He likes to watch things suffer.

“If it is the fault of God, then one has to go deeper than I'm planning to go here to understand why such a being would allow things like that in the world He created.”

Yes, you’ll have to go a lot deeper. I suggest that you suspend belief until you have done so. If it is the fault of God (and who else could be to blame), then God is not good and your beliefs are in error.

Brucker said...

I've studied hundreds of theodicies, and I don't think this matter is so simple. People have been argiung this sort of stuff back and forth since the time of Job. If it were so obvious, nobody would be a believer in God, but so many people are, in one form or another.

Not that I'm saying this line of questioning is fruitless, not at all! I think the subject in many ways is one of the most important in the theological realm. I'm just not prepared to debate it in this venue.

I was actually considering another blog where I would simply discuss this problem in one form after another, but this one takes up more of my time than I care to have taken up, and there are many for more accomplished philosophers than I that have examined the subject. Who knows, maybe I will anyway, just not this day.

Steve Wells said...

“People have been argiung this sort of stuff back and forth since the time of Job.”

Yes, but they were arguing without much information. Very little was known about parasites until a couple hundred years ago, and what little was known was misunderstood.

"If it were so obvious, nobody would be a believer in God, but so many people are, in one form or another.”

And if astrology were so obviously false, nobody would believe in it. But many people believe in it in one form or another. (Therefore it must be true.)

“Not that I'm saying this line of questioning is fruitless, not at all! I think the subject in many ways is one of the most important in the theological realm. I'm just not prepared to debate it in this venue.”

I’m not suggesting that you debate it here. But you should think about it. Hard. And be willing to change your beliefs accordingly.

“I was actually considering another blog where I would simply discuss this problem in one form after another, but this one takes up more of my time than I care to have taken up, and there are many for more accomplished philosophers than I that have examined the subject. Who knows, maybe I will anyway, just not this day.”

Sure, I understand. But shouldn’t you suspend belief until you can understand how a kind and loving God could have created Onchocerca volvulus (and a million or so other species)?

Brucker said...

"And if astrology were so obviously false, nobody would believe in it. But many people believe in it in one form or another. (Therefore it must be true.)"

I'm not arguing that it must be true, only that the issue isn't nearly as clear-cut as many atheists would like to have us believe. Heaven knows I've tried to disconvince people of their belief in astrology. But I certainly can't tell them what to believe or not believe based on my own convictions, even if I understand what I believe to be scientific basis for skepticism against it.

"I’m not suggesting that you debate it here. But you should think about it. Hard. And be willing to change your beliefs accordingly."

I have thought about it hard. I thought about this all long before I became a Christian, and decided Christian beliefs were sound despite (if not because of) the existence of suffering in the world.

"But shouldn’t you suspend belief until you can understand how a kind and loving God could have created Onchocerca volvulus (and a million or so other species)?"

Just because there is a part of one's belief system that seems to be lacking doesn't neccessarily mean one throws it out the window. Evidence for and against is weighed and decisions are made. My views on Christianity have changed over the ten years or so that I have been a Christian, but there has yet to be a good reason to completely abandon my faith. Who knows, maybe I'll find it in the course of working through this project?

mrStephenT said...

I just thought I would add a mention on the existence of parasites etc pre flood.

There exists in the fossil record clear instances of a predator-prey relationship, I think the fossil of a big fish eating a little fish is the best example. Assuming (as I believe) that the fossils were laid down in thef flood, then this relationship, and presumably the parasite/host relationship was already clearly developed - I believe that this behaviour came about because of the curse.

As an interesting aside, I do know that carnivores can survive happily on a vegitarian diet. As a child we kept a dog who primarily ate rice. Its not a stretch to believe that in a perfect world, all animals would eat only vegetables, since it is possible.

Also, I would like to thank both Brucker and Steve Wells for this blog. I was casually surfing one day when I came across the SAB, and am now reading the through the SAB and its associated discussions here. As a weekend christian looking to re-affirm my faith I've found a lot to think about here and appreciate the effort you both have/are going to.

Anonymous said...

Look at John Mackay 'Did a good God make Bad bugs' Creation Research (07)32064467. In the DVD John shows using standard text books and 2002 Science 295 p1892.8 March 2002 that the River blindness worm actually dies in the eye contrary to what Attenborough claims