Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Three strikes

«   Part 6 of the series, Genesis for the rest of us   »

Chapter 1 of Genesis looms large in American law. The creationist streak in American politics stems from the first of the Hebrew Bible's three creation myths. But there is more. Not one, not two, but three fallacies can be traced to the misinterpretation and misapplication of Genesis 1:1-2:3.

The first fallacy is the most famous. The creationist fallacy stems from the very first verse of the Hebrew Bible, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and the subsequent story of divinely guided creation over six days. Strike one.

Second, the dominion fallacy stems from Genesis 1:28: "God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." As I explained in The theological roots of our ecological crisis, this is the verse most often blamed for having set into motion the exploitative attitude of Western civilization toward nature. Strike two.

As I argued at length in Webs of Life, the final fallacy traceable to Genesis 1 may be the most devastating. Consider the following verses:
11: And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so.
12: The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
13: And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. ...
20: And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens."
21: So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22: And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth."
23: And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
24: And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so.
25: And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Thus arises the Phanerozoic fallacy, the assumption that environmental law begins and ends with protection of only those things visible to the naked human eye. Strike three.

This series now turns to an in-depth analysis of the Phanerozoic fallacy.

Editor's note: Biblical quotations, as most often made throughout this series, come from the Revised Standard Version. The stained-glass window depicted above is part of Chester Cathedral, England.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Chen, I agree with you that these are misinterpretations and misapplications of Genesis, but what would you suggest are the right interpretations? Or at least, why, textually, are they wrong? Maybe you're going to explore that later, or maybe you just don't want to turn this into an exigetical blog, but I'm curious.

9/20/2006 6:03 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...


Thanks for the comment. I do intend to explain further. There are any number of reasons for these misinterpretations. Here are some of them:

1. The failure to distinguish between the Bible as myth and the Bible as history. There's much more of the former than the latter, especially in Genesis.

2. An incredible selfishness among self-professed Christians. Remember my observation in The Hebrew paradox how a staggering number of American Christians believe that "God helps those who help themselves."

3. The misunderstanding of the relationship among Genesis' three creation myths. The dominion story here is tempered by a stewardship narrative in the second creation myth, to name just one example.

In any event, more is forthcoming. I hope you stay tuned.

Best wishes,
Jim Chen

9/21/2006 1:31 AM  

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