An Old Testament professor thinks the translations of Genesis should be rewritten—to accommodate her view on what the text actually means.
The professor is Ellen van Wolde of Radboud University, and her idea is based on a “re-analysis” of the Genesis Hebrew that “place[s] it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia,” The Telegraph reports. Thus, we already see the first flaw in her research: she has assumed other creation stories should be used to interpret the Bible. But since the Genesis creation account (like the rest of the Bible) is the inspired, inerrant Word of the Creator on this subject and the other creation stories of the nations around ancient Israel are not, those stories must be either complete myths or corrupted versions of the Genesis account.
But what is her big idea? According to Van Wolde, the Hebrew word bara translated as “to create” in English should actually be translated “to [spatially] separate.” So she renders Genesis 1:1 as “In the beginning God separated the heavens from the Earth.” The Telegraph offers a peek at her logic:
She said technically “bara” does mean “create” but added: “Something was wrong with the verb. “God was the subject (God created), followed by two or more objects. Why did God not create just one thing or animal, but always more?” She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground. “There was already water,” she said.
Let’s deconstruct Van Wolde’s deconstruction of Genesis. First, if bara “technically . . . does mean ‘create’”—as in, that is the “dictionary definition,” and that meaning is central to understanding where it is used elsewhere in the Old Testament—then what are the grounds for reading it in another sense? The plain reading hermeneutic tells us to interpret the text based on words’ ordinary meanings and, if necessary, select among multiple definitions based on contextual and grammatical clues.
Yet, as we stated above, Van Wolde presupposes that other creation stories can help us “correct” the Genesis account. (In particular, she cites creation myths that speak of an “enormous body of water in which monsters were living, covered in darkness,” The Telegraph reports.) But why must it be that the Genesis account is corrupted and the others correct, rather than the other way around? Essentially, Van Wolde is altering the dictionary meaning of bara to fit her idea that Genesis should mesh with other accounts.
Second, we cannot understand the reasoning behind Van Wolde’s statement that because “God created” is always “followed by two or more objects,” the verb should be translated as “separated” instead of “created.” We’re hoping her actual paper contains a more rigorous argument to support this logic; otherwise, why could God not have created two objects simultaneously or in sequence, and why could Genesis not fairly document such events using bara? For that matter, why wasn’t the verb meaning “to separate” (badal) used, if that is what God wanted to convey? That verb worked just fine in Genesis 1:4, 6 and 18 to describe the separation of light from darkness and the waters into two distinct places.
Third, this new interpretation creates confusion and inconsistency elsewhere in Scripture. Take Exodus 20:11, for example, which states that “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the Earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” That plainly suggests both (a) that God created, rather than separated, everything listed in Genesis 1; and (b) that whatever God did with the heavens and the Earth, so he also did with “all that is in them.” In other words, if bara actually was better translated as “to separate” in regards to the heavens and the Earth, that must also apply to, e.g., animals and man. Yet what would it mean for God to separate man in His own image (Genesis 1:27)? Furthermore, bara and asah (to make) are used interchangeably in many verses that refer to Creation Week, as this article shows. Right in the Creation account, these verbs are so used with reference to man (Genesis 1:26-27) and regarding the heavens and the earth and all their hosts (Genesis 2:1-3). Finally, the New Testament clearly says that Jesus Christ is God and that He created everything (John 1:1–3; Colossians 1:15–16; Revelation 4:11).
Apparently Van Wolde realizes this, which brings us to our fourth complaint: if much of what Genesis 1 describes already existed, where did it come from? Perhaps Van Wolde is an evolutionist herself, though she noted, “[Genesis means] to say that God did create humans and animals, but not the Earth itself.” Such a reading is confusing and incompatible with other verses confirming that God did, indeed, create more than just humans and animals (see Genesis 2:1–3; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 146:5–6). Otherwise, are we to assume God “stumbled upon” another deity’s created universe (a concept which demotes God) and decided to use it for His master plan?
Van Wolde concludes, “The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now.” We reply, “Dr. Van Wolde’s view of God and Genesis is untenable, for it is based on ancient pagan myths, rather that the sound interpretation of God’s own Word.”
Yet another experimental study teaches us more about the sophisticated (and, perhaps, surprising) intelligence of crows.
Cambridge zoologist Christopher Bird and colleague Nathan Emery of Queen Mary, University of London, report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B a study they conducted on rooks, a Eurasian member of the crow family (“Rooks Perceive Support Relations Similar to Six-Month-Old Babies”). The researchers attempted to ascertain rooks’ “perceptual understanding of support relations,” i.e., whether the birds understood what physical relationships between objects were possible. (We previously reported on a Bird and Emery study of rooks in May.)
Specifically, the scientists put the rooks through a test to see if the birds knew that an object would fall if not being held up by another object. The birds were placed on one side of a wall that had several peepholes in it. Through each peephole, the rooks could see a different image of an egg-and-table setup. In some of the scenes, the eggs were arranged on the tables in physically possible situations (such as an egg resting on a table). In other scenes, however, the eggs were in impossible locations, such as floating in midair above the table or just off the edge of the table.
As it turns out, the rooks spent significantly more time looking at the “impossible” scenes, an indication that they knew something was abnormal about the situations. Human babies have the same reaction by around six months of age.
University of Louisiana–Lafayette psychologist Daniel Povinelli criticized the study, however. “How could [rooks] not have these interpretations? How else would they know how to land on a branch?” Bird answered that while many animals surely understand the basic idea of physical support, rooks appear to better understand its nuances.
As proof of that, Bird pointed out that rooks did better than even chimpanzees at the test, suggesting crows’ understanding of some physical laws exceeds primates’. This, along with a series of other tests (many of which we’ve reported on), indicate that crows are near or at the top of the animal kingdom in terms of intelligence. God designed many intelligent creatures, and not all have the same types of intelligence. Observing the intellectual abilities of not just chimpanzees, but also crows, elephants, and cetaceans reminds us of this fact. While evolutionists frequently point to chimp intelligence as indicative of our relatedness with them (often comparing primate and human baby smarts), continuing research into crow intelligence demonstrates that this is not an argument for evolution.
It’s the “Standard Microbial Habitability index,” an attempt to quantitatively define a planetary body’s suitability for life.
The new index, presented at a meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, assigns a value to five planets or moons to represent the ability of each to support life. The scale ranges from 0 (inhabitable) to 1 (most habitable), with the planetary bodies receiving a decimal figure within that range.
National Geographic News offers pictures and commentary on the objects of the study, which was led by Abel Mendez of the University of Puerto Rico–Arecibo. Mendez’s team considered Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Venus (in addition to Earth) as habitability candidates. Their results? Enceladus and Venus tied Earth at 0.4 on the scale, with Mars and Europa not far behind at 0.3. Titan brought up a distant rear with 0.001. As for the individual specifics:
It is interesting to note that in the absence of any actual evidence for extraterrestrial life, evolutionists (including many astronomers) continue to suggest that the signs of life may be, in effect, “just beyond our reach.” At this rate, without tearing apart every molecule of every planetary body in our solar system (or galaxy), these astronomers will continue to have faith that alien life may exist. Of course, this attitude is primarily created by the evolutionary view of life: that it merely springs up when and where the underlying conditions are right.
The National Geographic News piece reports Mendez’s view: “Even if life started or was introduced in any of these bodies, it requires a relatively stable environment to maintain it.” In other words, the greater concern to Mendez is not the origin of life, but the survival of life. Yet surely that should increase the habitability of Earth, which according to evolutionists has sustained life for more than a billion years.
We therefore find it strange that Venus—a planet that is incredibly hostile compared to Earth—scores as high as Earth on the index. This is despite the fact that even evolutionists agree that Earth is spectacularly suited for life, which we consider evidence of design. Also is the obvious point that Earth’s “likelihood” of harboring life should be 1.0—we know there is life here!
While the Bible does not specifically state that God did not create organic life anywhere else in the universe, such is a reasonable implication of Scripture. Similarly, while the idea of evolution would not be disproved were alien life not found, nor would be proven if life were found, extraterrestrial life is a logical extension of the idea that life has a natural origin. When one begins with the biblical perspective, one can easily see that the search for alien life is a by-faith extension of evolutionary beliefs, and that its total failure to date is a reminder of the bereft nature of evolution as well.
Most would agree that spiders are one of the more menacing predators in nature—spinning webs and lying in wait for helplessly trapped victims. But one Meso-American spider will have (almost) nothing of it.
Writing in Current Biology, a team of scientists reports on the first known spider that “feeds primarily and deliberately on plants” (“Herbivory in a Spider through Exploitation of an Ant–Plant Mutualism”). Called Bagheera kiplingi, the spider is unlike its 40,000 species of arachnid brethren that are entirely or almost entirely carnivorous.
Instead, tiny B. kiplingi enjoys meals made up of the protein-filled tips of acacia plant leaves, called Beltian bodies. However, the spider must avoid pugnacious ants that live on the acacia plants and serve as de facto “bodyguards” for the trees, protecting the plant so that only they can eat the Beltian bodies.
“The spiders basically dodge the ants,” explained study coauthor Robert Curry of Villanova University. He continued,
The spiders live on the plants, but way out on the tips of the old leaves, where the ants don’t spend a lot of time, because there isn’t any food on those leaves. And they wait for an opening—they watch the ants move around, and they watch to see that there are not any ants in the local area that they are going after. And then they zip in and grab one of these Beltian bodies and then clip it off, hold it in their mouths and run away. And then they retreat to one of the undefended parts of the plant to eat it.
Interestingly, National Geographic News reports that Bagheera kiplingi was first described and named in the late nineteenth century. The describing scientists had only a dead specimen, however, and thus did not know what it ate.
Among the reasons Curry lists for the spider’s mostly plant diet are the tough competition for insect food in the tropics and B. kiplingi’s inability to weave webs. (B. kiplingi does occasionally eat ant larvae, so it would be wrong to label it entirely vegetarian.)
Many readers may have already guessed the thrust of our commentary to be how another “usual” carnivore is shown to have, at least in certain circumstances or species, an herbivorous diet. This, in turn, implies that some carnivores either are or were able to survive on herbivorous diets, but that anything from genetic to ecological changes leads them to eat other organisms (some or all of the time) instead. That reminds us of the reality of Genesis, which makes it clear that God created a world without death; death only entered through sin (Romans 5:12, as was warned in Genesis 2:17), and animals were originally vegetarian (Genesis 1:30).
But we must be cautious in saying that insects (most arachnids’ primary diet) are alive in the same sense that humans and most other animals are; Scripture uses nephesh chayyah to refer to “the living soul” or “the breath of life” in many creatures, and applies that term (in the Creation Week account) to sea creatures (Genesis 1:20–21), land animals (Genesis 1:24), birds (Genesis 1:30), and man (Genesis 2:7). The term is noticeably absent in the description of plants, so we can conclude that they are not “alive” in the full, Scriptural sense. But what about insects? Are they included in the “creeping things . . . in which there is life” that God created on Day 6 (Genesis 1:24–25, 30)?
While creationists continue to discuss and debate this topic, this news reminds us that many organisms that we assume must always be (and must always have been) carnivorous could once have been plant-eating only. In fact, even many creatures thought of as predatory (such as bears) subsist partially or mostly on plants. Several creatures use their menacing teeth to attack plant material (e.g., fruit bats), and paleontologists believe the sharp claws of velociraptors may have been used to scale tree trunks (see the September 19 News to Note).
Thus, conceiving of a world without carnivory isn’t such a stretch of the imagination, and each discovery of unexpectedly plant-eating animals reminds us of the historical reality of that pre-Curse world.
Researchers have used adult stem cells to create part of a jaw bone, marking a major milestone in stem cell research.
Reporting in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from Slovenia and the United States describe success at growing a “clinically sized, anatomically shaped, viable human bone graft” (“Engineering Anatomically Shaped Human Bone Grafts”).
The graft began with stem cells taken from the bone marrow of an adult human. The researchers then used a tissue scaffold to help the cells grow into a specific shape: part of the human jaw bone (specifically, the temporomandibular joint). The scaffold was based on digital images from a patient.
The team chose to grow a temporomandibular joint because of its challenge. “We thought the jawbone would be the most rigorous test of our technique,” said team leader Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic of Columbia University. “If you can make this, you can make any shape.” On the promise of the research, she noted, “The availability of personalized bone grafts engineered from the patient’s own stem cells would revolutionize the way we currently treat these defects.”
Last November we reported on the successful transplant of a windpipe that was grown from stem cells taken from the patient’s bone marrow. University of Bristol tissue engineering expert Anthony Hollander, one of the researchers behind that success, said of the latest breakthrough: “This is a lovely piece of tissue engineering which has produced bone with a high degree of accuracy in terms of shape.” He noted that work remains to be done, however. In particular, scientists hope to learn how to grow bone with a blood supply that can be integrated with the patient’s cardiovascular system after transplant.
In several editions of News to Note we have covered stem cell research and therapies that don’t compromise on morality by destroying human embryos to save it. In fact, we run across such news far more often than stories of breakthroughs with embryonic stem cells. The report in PNAS is another reminder that most (or nearly all) stem cell research bearing fruit requires no destruction of the lives of the unborn.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, New York Times or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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