Thursday, August 04, 2005

Strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel (Gen 1:9-13)

(I notice in my traffic logs that a lot of people land on this post while Googling the title of this post. The point made in the post is an example of the concept, not an explanation. Just in case there are people looking for an explanation of the meaning of the phrase, I'm going to post a brief one in the comments below.)

There's not much to say about this particular section, at least certainly the first part. So the waters flowed together to form the seas, and left behind the dry land. There's nothing spectacular here; that's essentially the same thing that happens every time it rains. But then the plants arrive.

The problem here that is addressed by the SAB is that of photosynthesis. More or less immediately upon the formation of dry land, plants appear. (Something not addressed by the SAB that I personally find curious is the fact that of course plants also grow in the sea, and supposedly wouldn't have needed to wait for this process of drying out. Not that it's earth-shattering, but it is interesting.)

There is also a note that the Bible says in this passage (and others in this chapter) "let the earth bring forth", which may hint at the possibility of evolution. Sure, it's possible, but I think the more literal interpretation, and certainly the theologically conservative one is that when God says, "Let such-and-such happen," He's really giving a command. The fact that this one is worded slightly different from the ones we've heard before I think is simply a reflection of making something from something, rather than something from nothing. After the first day, it seems that God largely shapes everything out of existing materials that He created in verse 1.

But seeing as it's apparently the question on everyone's mind, what of photosynthesis? How do plants exist without sunlight? I have two thoughts on this.

First, why such an insistence on plants needing light? I understand there is well-established science that says this in essence, and in fact it was probably well-known to be a fact long before modern science. However, if God can make something out of nothing, why not make plants without sunlight? Or better yet, if there is no need to appeal to the supernatural, why go there, right? So forget this idea of plants miraculously needing no light for photosynthesis, and let's talk about the bare facts.

Once, I got my wife some tulips in a pot. You know, they were alive, and all that? Okay, so I brought these live plants home, and intended to give them to her for her birthday, but her birthday was a couple days away. So what did I do? Like I would do with any other present, I hid it. I stuck it in an unused cupboard in the kitchen, where it stayed in darkness for over 24 hours. Guess what? It was still alive when I pulled it out! It hadn't shriveled up and died from lack of sunlight for over 24 hours. Maybe I'm weird but I don't believe it was a supernatural miracle. Nor do I believe there was anything odd about plants needing to wait 24 hours for God to make the sun, so long as He made sure they stayed warm enough.

This leads to my second thought, which I lean on a bit more, especially since my line of reasoning in the last paragraph unwittingly led me here in the end. (I reason these out as I go along, so sometimes I surprise myself, actually.) Going back to day one, we ask the question once again; where is the light (and heat!) coming from if there's no sun?

Coming from a bit of a spotty background, I can tell you from personal experience that I have known people to grow certain plants indoors, completely away from the sun's light until the time that they wish to harvest their, um, crop away from the prying eyes that might come if their plants were left outdoors. Not just 24 hours, but a plant living its entire life without seeing a single ray of sunshine (and perhaps destroyed before being ever taken outdoors). This of course is achieved with artificial light sources. If God can make a plant grow out of nothing, why can't he make light out of nothing?

I find it interesting that some comments I have received elsewhere regarding my posts here have complained about my earlier request that people accept the Bible on its own terms and suspend disbelief regarding the nature of God, yet nobody brings up the point about how absurd it is that plants would be created where no plants had ever existed before. I mean, the Bible doesn't say, "God planted some seeds and they sprung up." No, God just told the ground to make plants, and it obeyed. And the skeptics swallow this camel-sized absurdity whole and say, "All the different species of plants in the world created in one day out of barren ground? Yeah whatever, let's talk about photosynthesis!" I guess sometimes it's the little things that bother you, you know?


Anonymous said...

Tulips grow from bulbs which contain a food source for the baby plants until they can start to photosynthesise energy - ie, before they've grown any leaves, for a start. This is akin to a chick not needing to be fed for a day or more after hatching as it still has the remains of it's yolk-sac to provide it with energy and nutrients. Any seed is the same, and no explanation is needed.

I assume the example you are talking about after that is canabis. Forgive my skepticism, but I don't believe that these plants can be grown in permanent darkness, no matter what sort of fertiliser was used.

I quite agree that plants could survive 24 hours without sunlight, but for god to create them before he has created them a light source indicates a woeful lack of proper forethought and planning and a lack of care for his creations.

Never mind, it's only a silly story anyway and nobody in their right mind would take it seriously. Since people do take it seriously and literally, then it should be picked apart in a simillar manner.

Brucker said...

On the contrary, I made no claim that cannabis can be grown in permanent darkness. My understanding of such things is that people who engage in such horticultural activities keep the plants in constant artificial light. Likewise, the Bible does *not* say that there was no light for the plants, but in fact says the opposite. There's no good reason that I'm aware of to assume that the light that was created on the first day was insufficient for growing plants.

Thanks for your comments anyway; I'm glad somebody is giving me feedback here, even if it's not positive.

Anonymous said...

Were plants created before or after humans?
(You may have answered this already, but I couldn’t find it.)

Brucker said...


Brucker said...

I'm glad to see that thanks to anonymous, this blog was located by a blog search for "canabis outdoors fertilisers". Evidently, I will continue to be a popular blog for stoners with questionable spelling skills.

Brucker said...

The phrase "...strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel..." is a quotation from Matthew 23. The idea behind the phrase is that both gnats and camels are animals that Jews are forbidden to eat, and Jesus points out to the people he's lecturing in that passage that they pay attention to little things that are supposedly important, but ignore the big things. It's sort of like the guy who goes to a restaurant and orders a double cheeseburger with extra bacon and jumbo fries, and then drinks a Diet Coke because, "I'm trying to watch my weight."

As it happens the very same people Jesus acuses of this sort of thing later frame him for a capital crime, but try to avoid having him killed on Saturday, because they want to observe the sabbath. (More or less, I may have that a bit mixed up in minor details.)

Na said...
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Na said...

I think at the start of this post you are wondering if seaweed photosynthesizes, just to say yes it does.
However I believe seeds don't require light to germinate (though without the heat from the light it's not going to germinate).
You're right, that all one needs to do is accept that god can do magic and their is no need for an explanation. The whole creation thing as you say is a "camel-sized absurdity"; I guess because the SAB is making a catalog of faults with the Bible, it's concentrating on cataloging each tree, and sometimes forgets to catalog the forest they're part of.

Brucker said...

Oh, I knew that seaweed photosynthesizes, my question was whether one might consider it odd that the author of Genesis seems to be implying that there needs to be dry land before there can be plants, given that seaweed is an obvious counter-example. Again, if this is a made-up story in which the author failed to mention seaweed, it seems strange, since I have a hard time imagining someone not knowing that seaweed exists. As an actual story of supernatural creation, I don't know what to think about this detail at all.

Na said...

On the contrary, if there are mistakes then that casts more doubt on the work being inspired by God. The authors may just have seen such details as unimportant to the story.

I see what you're saying, the parts that rely on the supernatural to explain them away are obviously going to be absurd and in conflict with science, but as I say he it cataloging.

Brucker said...

Not so much a mistake as an odd order of events. The author makes it sound like there was no life at all until there was land to sustain it, yet must be aware that plant and animal life thrive quite well with only water. I might be reading too much into it, but there are definitely some places where the writer seems to be saying something wrong, but obviously wrong, like calling grasshoppers four-legged creatures while at the same time describing them in such detail that they must have known they were six-legged. So what are they trying to say?

Na said...

These things can either be careless mistakes of the author, part of the fiction of a different time, or mistakes in reproduction. However the grasshopper one I guess is
"11:21 Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
11:22 Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind." which I don't think is a great deal of detail, however I think this is easy to argue for; I would say that the four legs it crawls on are meant to be the front four and the legs above its feet are the bigger legs it leaps with, though I'm not sure how that works for the beetle.
However the SAB ties this to "14:19 And every creeping thing that flieth is unclean unto you: they shall not be eaten." but I'll wait until I get there to see how you explain it ;)