Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An help meet for him (Gen 2:18-25)

After creating man, God decides there needs to be someone to give him special companionship and be a team with him. Don't get the Bible wrong, all the stuff about parading animals in front of man to check them out and name them at this point in the middle of the creation of woman isn't meant as a tangent, or even as some might like to suggest humorously a hint of bestiality (oh wait, the SAB does that, too, just farther down the page). Being omniscient, God is already intending to do everything that He eventually does from the moment the universe is created. Some people have suspected that God is showing man that animals all come in male and female varieties so that man will realize that a human female is missing. It's an interesting conjecture, but I think it lacks something, especially since some animals like bees have something more complex going on than simply male/female varieties among the species. I think the purpose is similar, though; man is seeing that there are a lot of different animals in the world, and yet none of them are quite like him.

The SAB notes that in the N.T., the Apostle Paul writes that it's better to be single. I don't think that it's a contradiction at all, though. To a large extent, this is Paul's personal opinion; although I don't think it's outright stated, I think most scholars believe that Paul was probably married early in life, and at the time he writes 1Corinthians, he's divorced. (Perhaps because his wife couldn't stand him once he became a Christian?) Paul is pointing out that one can give oneself wholeheartedly to ministry if one does not have to worry about supporting a family. Notice in verse 7:6, Paul in fact says that nothing in this chapter before verse 10 is a command. Most of what he says here is about sexual relations, and that people who are married should be having a healthy, active sex life to keep their marriage functioning properly. The reason Paul says not to marry is in verse 26 of that same chapter, where he says that there is a "present crisis" during which people should do their best to refrain from forming or breaking relationships. In other words, it's largely a temporary thing, whatever is bothering Paul about marriage here.

When man does spend time naming all the animals, a person who knows a bit about biology and puts two and two together would of course point out (as the SAB does), "There are millions of different species of animals in the world. Assuming man was to name one species per second without stopping to take a break even to sleep, it would take weeks to get through them all." This is actually an interesting point I'd not thought of before I read it in the SAB. The first thing to note is that this is not technically a problem. I believe theologians hold that man was essentially immortal while he was in the garden, and had nothing better to do but whatever God had for him to do, so even if this took years, it's pretty much okay. However, I'm inclined to say that man did not actually have to name each and every single species on the planet. Sure, there are lions, tigers, cheetahs, pumas, etc., but it might have sufficed for man to simply name them all "cat". For one thing, as I pointed out before, the ancient taxonomic systems weren't much like our modern one, and while yes, God knows more about science (biology in this case) than the ancients did, that doesn't mean that even He classifies animals the way that we do. For another thing, something that virtually no one seems to ever note about this story is that man is naming the animals in a language that we cannot identify. A large portion of the millions of species that we have classified today have only a Latin name, but it seems fairly safe to assume that Latin had not yet been invented. Realistically, the naming process here is unfathomable to us because whatever it was, it was a very foreign process to us.

On a side note, (this being a side note, those readers who complain about these tangents can skip this paragraph) some people have suggested that some limited evolutionary processes has caused there to be more species today than there were at the time of the creation. Well, the thought usually comes up in the context of discussing Noah's ark, actually, but wherever you bring it up, it has some problems that are a bit beyond my knowledge of biology. The short version is that theists seem to be arguing against evolution when it's not convenient, but then when it becomes convenient, they suddenly choose to imagine it being a much swifter process than any sane biologist would ever suggest. My personal thought on this particular story is that if God is bringing animals as potential companions to man, there's a lot of animals that simply aren't worth considering, including most if not all animals that live in the sea, and insects. "Okay, Adam, you don't like the 'dragonfly' as you called it? How about this little guy future generations will call pulex irritans? He might make a good companion...oops, looks like you don't get a choice, so what do you want to call him?"

In any case, when this parade is all done, man finds nothing suitable ("meet"). So God makes man fall asleep and fashions him a wife out of his rib. There are a number of interesting poetic things about this concept. I've heard in many sermons that the lesson we should take about God using a piece of the man's body rather than starting over is that a man's wife should truly be like a part of him (v. 23). Also, the fact that it was a part from the middle of his body rather than the top or the bottom indicates an essential equality between man and woman. Lastly, the fact that she was made from bone rather than clay (as man was) might say something about the nature of a woman. Bone is more delicate and lighter than clay, but when clay breaks, it shatters, while bones merely chip, so women therefore have a sort of delicate strength to them that is absent in men.

The last point that the SAB makes about this chapter is a question about the nature of polygamy in the Bible. (Note that if properly understood, the last three verses in the "Yes" column are really in the wrong place. The last two are clearly anti-polygamy, and the third to last is a misunderstanding of cultural context: these women are not brides, but bridesmaids.) Here, God apparently institutes marriage as being a monogamous thing (Jesus says so, at least), yet polygamy is found pretty commonly throughout the scriptures. There is an important distinction between what the Bible shows and what the Bible teaches. Yes, many of these men were polygamists, but God never says that it's okay; in fact, quite a few of them were personally told by God that they'd done a bad thing. The fact is, polygamy is never said to be a sin in the Bible, and frankly, I don't think it is, but it definitely is a problem. I was told by a pastor once that you will find no example of a polygamist in the Bible that didn't have trouble come about from his polygamy, and from what I have read, it's true. Also note that aside from requiring church leaders to be monogamous, God also required kings to be monogamous along with a lot of other rules about kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 that apparently David and Solomon never read. The SAB ought to have some notes on that passage, it's a doozy.


marauder34 said...

A number of interesting thoughts that were new to me regarding this portion of Scripture.

Anyway, two things I wanted to offer my own commentary on:

1) I've heard it suggested that another of the reasons God sends the animals past Adam really *is* to see what Adam would call them. This was, after all, a new experience for God as well, at least fom what we can tell of Scripture. Not sure how I feel about that, but there can be little doubt that our concepts of God are affected by Greek philosophies, as well as by biblical ones, and that some of the extrabiblical ideas we have may be flat-out wrong.

I haven't really thought it out too far, to be honest, but it's an intriguing notion. If we posit that God's knowledge is infinite, that doesn't mean that he necessarily knows everything. For example, a being might know all the even positive integers but not the negative ones. The set of his knowledge, while infinite, remains a subset of a "larger infinity."

Thus, while God knows all, he still has new experiences by creating, and even newer ones because of the Incarnation. All-knowing, he still says to the Israelites, "It never even occurred to me, some of the things that you're doing." All-wise, he still changes his mind when Moses asks, and when the Ninevehites repent.

2) The speciation thing. There's a difference between macroevolution and microevolution. Macroevolution holds that in time, a fairly simple species, such as a rodent, eventually will have descendants that walk on two legs, use fire, and wield tools, like humans. Microevolution acknowledges changes within species over time, and allows for the possibility of species diverging over time because of differences in behavior, environment, and other such factors.

You mentioned cats before, which I also mentioned in a previous comment, so let's stick with that. I'm not sure how many species of cat there are in the world right now, but I'm sure there are dozens, ranging from the common housecat, to bigger creatures like the Florida panther.

In many cases -- I won't say all, because I can't swear to it -- these cat species are completely interbreedable, and their offspring also are interbreedable. This gives us critters like ligers, tigons, li-ligons, leopons, and so on. The interbreedability suggests, credibly enough, either that they have common ancestry or that they're actually different breeds of the same species, much like the different breeds of dog, and it's us silly humans who keep them from interbreeding at the Philadelphia Zoo or other places where the habitat question is eliminated.

People who dispute microevolution are doing so without any basis for it. Natural selection is plainly evident, so are behavioral changes when the environment changes sufficiently. It's easy enough to imagine an ancestral Cat whose descendants spread across the globe, with risky or useless characteristics being removed from the gene pool as they went, and counterproductive behaviors also disappearing. Thus the tigers became solo hunters, while lions moved in a pride; jungle-effective camoflague disappeared from the savannah-based gene pool, and so on.

As far as this being "hasty" evolution, except for scale, it actually isn't that different from what biologists call "punctuated equilibrium," a theoretical macroevolutionary leap with much greater advances in speciation happening after a cataclysm, such as the hypothetical meteor offing the dinosaurs in a mass-extinction event.

But I agree: I've known many Christians who shudder at the suggestion of *any* evolutionary process (or of global warming, for that matter), because of their distaste for macroevolution and what it's done to the Great Chain of Being.

Brucker said...

As I said, this is beyond my expertise. I only took one biology class in college (which was focused on neurology and the role it plays in social evolution of various species), and none in high school, so I only have what I've picked up in books and science magazines in my spare time.

While the idea of post-diluvean (is that a word, and if so, is it spelled right?) micro-evolution producing the known species we have today has some appeal to the Bible believer who wants to reconcile modern taxonomy to the flood narrative, I have been told it gets much more complicated than that. With millions of species existing, especially among insects, it's hard to understand where the variety could have come from in just a few thousand years. Even among cats, even though there is definitely still a closeness that allows interbreeding, there are some differences between the different kinds of cats that are more than 4,000 years of random variation can account for. For instance, here's a fun fact: did you know cheetahs' claws do not retract, and they are the only cats without that common ability. Most larger cats have the ability to roar (lacking in smaller cats) due to a change in the skeletal structure of the neck. These are pretty significant differences.

Also, despite claims of the song, tigers do not live in Kenya.

marauder34 said...

It's beyond my expertise also; like you, I'm exploring an idea without necessarily committing to it, although I do find it interesting.

I'd have to say, though, that the differences in bone structure don't necessarily kill the speciation argument, when one considers the variation within a single recognized species. Humans, after all, range in height from about 3 or 4 feet tall to over 8, and there have been skeletons found in the coal layer that measure closer to 12 feet than to 6. Darker-skinned humans have sickle-cell anemia, which allows them to survive malaria; paler-skinned humans are adapted to survive in the North. Either race suffers in the climate of the other. Dogs range in size from drop-kick-me Mexican Chihuahua to 300-pound wolfhounds.

That of course doesn't necessarily serve as an equivalent to differences in the skeletons like you're describing, but I think it shows that we have a lot of range, and there are of course genetically based differences in the human genome where our skeletal structure is concerned. Polydactylism, for example, is generally considered a detriment, even though it is the genetically dominant trait (at least if I remember correctly from high school). I can't think of a situation where polydactylism would be beneficial, but if there were one, we might find an entire population of 12-fingered humans, much like the extra-toed cats you referred to that supposedly benefitted from their extradextrous feet in the swamp where they lived.

As to the age of the Earth, you'll find even young-earthers have a wide range of opinions. Some hold to Usher's view, that the earth is almost exactly 6,000 years old; others place it at 10,000; and still others, older than that.

Me, I don't care. As we've both noted previously, Genesis isn't a science textbook, and those who use it as such often miss the point.

Anonymous said...

One aspect of naming the animals that should be noted is the importance of 'naming' in the bible (and in most ancient mythologies around the MidEast). Naming something gave the namer a degree of power/ownership over the one named. (One of the reasons Jews refuse to name their God. Many pagan priests used the names of their gods in magical incantations to force those gods to do their will. The God of Israel of course was beyond that sort of control by men and men were wise to avoid even the appearance of the attempt.)

Anyway, it doesn't particularly matter whether Adam thought up names for however many unique species existed at creation. Part of the meaning of this passage is to show man's dominion over nature by allowing him to name the animals. Another aspect is the idea that God left creation a little unfinished so that we, made in His image and therefore with an desire to create, could participate/help in finishing it. Naming the animals also allows Adam to participate in the creation in some small way.

Brucker said...

Those are some interesting aspects that I hadn't thought of that make a lot of sense. The whole naming concept throughout the Bible is a very powerful one, and it's interesting given that that God would put this task in the hands of man. Definitely something symbolic going on here, huh?

Na said...

I like the idea that the character Adam just stood there pointing at things, calling them Dave :)

marauder34 said...

I can think of worse things than Dave for Adam to call the animals.

Brucker said...

Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave had twenty-three sons, and she named them all Dave? Well, she did.

Anyway, I've got to jump back to something said in the first comment that I know has bothered me before, so I'm not sure why I've let it stand without response for so long.

"If we posit that God's knowledge is infinite, that doesn't mean that he necessarily knows everything. For example, a being might know all the even positive integers but not the negative ones. The set of his knowledge, while infinite, remains a subset of a 'larger infinity.'"

I don't think this is a correct way of examining the concept of omniscience (which I assume is what you are alluding to here). The idea behind omniscience is not that God has infinite knowledge, but *all* knowledge.

Mathematically, you've got the idea of infinity pretty much right; not only are there sets of numbers that are infinite and yet only part of the whole spectrum of numbers, but in fact there are an infinite number of such subsets. For instance, as there are infinitely many numbers on the number line between zero and one, so there are infinitely many between one and two, etc.

I suppose there might be an interesting philosophical examination possible of the relationship between an infinite amount of information and omniscience: I doubt that Moses was aware of the concept of infinity in the way that we are presently for one thing. For another, one might question whether being omniscient implies infinite knowledge, since certainly mathematicians are able to discuss concepts like the ones in the previous paragraph while obviously not knowing each and every number between zero and one.

As you're not a mathematician (with all my denial of expertise in biology, it's nice to have a topic I can claim some better grasp on), you may not have heard of this, but Georg Cantor actually proved that it is impossible to make a list of all the numbers between zero and one, even if you allow the possibility of a list of infinite length. Mathematical concepts like this can be seen as related in some ways to the works of Gödel and Turing, regarding which some time ago I had an interesting discussion with FoaF concerning the implications of mathematical paradoxes towards the concept of omniscience. (From what I recall, FoaF probably would probably claim that omniscience implies infinite knowledge; I'm not fully convinced.)

Anyway, while your comment from before seems to imply (rightly) that infinite knowledge does not imply knowledge of everything, I'm saying I don't think anyone using the term "omniscient" meant "infinite knowledge", at least directly.