Monday, September 30, 2002

Name Those Animals

I have many questions about a literal six twenty-four-hour-day young-earth view of creation. Most of them are technical in nature, having to deal with difficulties in reconciling fossil, geological, and cosmological evidence, each of which independently points to an earth and a universe that is much older than young-earthers believe.

However, today I want to discuss what I see as another problem with a literal interpretation of the timelines in the creation account of Genesis, a non-scientific issue that is related to man’s finite capabilities.

In Genesis 1, on the sixth day, God created man and woman:
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27)
In the more detailed account of Genesis 2, we read
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:15-22, NIV)

There are several interesting aspects of this passage. One is that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Surely God already knew this to be the case; it didn’t just suddenly occur to God that man should not be alone. God would have known this before he created Adam. A possible scenario is that God is responding to a weariness that had befallen Adam, one that He knew would eventually arise, and one that we would expect to take a while (days, week’s, months, years?) to develop.

Given that Adam had not experienced human contact, and especially given that he had a relationship with God more intimate that any other man would enjoy, it is unlikely that Adam would immediately experience loneliness.

This is, of course, all speculation. In verse 18, it may very well be that what God is saying is that He will make Eve because he knows that Adam needs a helper and that eventually Adam would become lonely.

The real question, in my mind, is the naming of the animals, which is done between God’s statement that man should not be alone, and the creation of Eve. (Returning to the speculation for a moment, could God have been using this activity to teach Adam why he was lonely? That in this vast array of life, presumably both male and female, there was nothing of his kind?) It states that God brought all the live stock and all the beasts of the fields and all the birds of the air for Adam to name. How long do you suppose that would take? Granted God could instantly transport an animal to the garden for Adam to view. However, is it not reasonable that Adam pondered, in human time intervals, the characteristics of each animal before naming it?

There are over 10,000 known species of bird. If Adam took just 10 seconds to ponder each species it would take more than a day (86,400 seconds) to name just the birds. And that is without mentioning all the livestock and all the beasts of the field.

It seems unlikely that Adam could have done this in twenty four hours. And that is a maximum of twenty four: since all this happened on the sixth day he has twenty-four hours if God made Adam at the very beginning of the sixth day (although it states He created animals before Adam on the sixth day), and immediately gave Adam this job (although it appears that He first gave Adam the job of tending the Garden) and made Eve at the last instant of the sixth day. Any other scenario gives Adam even less time to name the animals.

In addition, Adam hat to eat. He had to go to the bathroom. He may even have gotten tired and needed breaks.

How long would it take to name the animals? Not very long—it does not imply that Adam pondered such questions as whether rabbits were in the rodent family. Still, it seems like a job that would take weeks if not months. And after he was done, we are told that for Adam, no suitable helper was found. This is again a hint of God’s motive, to teach Adam why he was lonely.

This question differs from all the others in the old-earth/young-earth debate. All others are questions of (roughly) millions of years (fossils) or billions of years (geology/cosmology) versus six to ten thousand years (the young-earther’s presumed age of the earth). Questions also (falsely, in my opinion) involve God’s creative power, with assertions that old-earthers have a weak god that takes billions of years to do what the true God can do in six days. (The old-earth Christians, like me, do not affirm evolution, only that the scientific evidence points to an old earth and that the days in Genesis are not literal. We affirm creation was of God and the historic reality of Adam and Eve.)

The question of Adam’s classification of the animals is different. It does not pit science versus Genesis, for we are talking about modest time differences-- not millions or billions of years but weeks or months compared to a fraction of a day. More importantly, we are not talking about anything that can be (unfairly) cast as a challenge to God’s power, because the problem presented is based purely on Adam’s human limitations.

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