To the Editor:
. . . In his article, “Evolution and the Bible: Genesis 1 Revisited” [November 1988], Leon R. Kass summarily rejects the enterprise called “creation science.” Nonetheless, he confesses to a grudging defense of the creation scientists and their fundamentalist followers. He views them as “properly dissatisfied” with a theory of evolution that refuses to confront ultimate sources and origins, that dismisses the search for causal explanation as obscurantist metaphysics. . . .
In his concluding paragraphs, Mr. Kass returns to the question of first cause. Even if creation is evolution and proceeds by natural processes, “what is responsible for this natural process?” he asks. “Can a dumb process,” he eloquently laments, “ruled by strict necessity and chance mutation, having no rhyme or reason, ultimately answer sufficiently for life, for man, for the whole?”
The rules of the game of science preclude such questions because the “natural processes” determine the limits of scientific inquiry. But Mr. Kass insists, and well he may, on uttering the existentialist cry for help to which evolutionists, in principle, cannot respond. It is a cry of Kierkegaardian dread. In his concluding sentence, Mr. Kass suggests that the dilemma is dissolved in a leap of faith. . . .
Bayside, New York
To the Editor:
Regarding Leon R. Kass’s closing remarks: yes, we evolutionists can confidently reject the first claim of the Bible—that God created the heavens and the earth. No empirical evidence exists for God, and the concept is totally unnecesary to explain the substance and order of our universe. Other universes may be different, but ours is an evolutionary universe in which most fundamental forces are conducive to increasing complexity, the essence of evolution. . . .
Cosmological theories like the big bang . . . enable us, at last, to explain the origin of the universe without invoking a putative “supreme being.” . . .
Tim Donovan, Jr.
To the Editor:
Seeking to harmonize the Bible with the teachings of science, Leon R. Kass suggests we can find in Genesis 1 a process at work of gradual differentiation and separation, far more compatible with the teachings of evolution than the standard fundamentalist view of repeated acts of creation ex nihilo. He neglects to mention that the resolution he proposes is not original. It is in fact the classical Jewish reading of the text.
The view that creation “evolved” through gradual individuation from a sea of potential life is put forth both by Rashi, the 11th-century commentator, and printed as a companion to all standard Hebrew editions of the Bible, and by Maimonides as well. Rashi makes the point four times, most clearly in his gloss on 1:24. “Let the earth bring forth living animals,” says the text. Rashi comments: “All were created on the first day and there remained only to draw them out” (emphasis added).
Maimonides follows this approach as well. In Guide for the Perplexed, he comments on the nuances in meaning of the various words translated as “create.” Bara’ means to create ex nihilo. ‘Asah and yatsar mean to shape or mold from what previously exists. Maimonides explains Genesis 1:
[E]verything was created simultaneously; then gradually all things became differentiated. They have compared this to what happens when an agricultural laborer sows various kinds of grain in the soil at the same moment. Some of them sprout within a day, others within two days, others again within three days, though everything was sowed at the same hour. [Guide for the Perplexed II, 30]
. . . Rashi and Maimonides made their comments not as apologetics in the face of scientific challenge, but because that is how they read the text. . . .
[Rabbi] Nachum Braverman
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
The article by Leon R. Kass is certainly a seminal one, . . . but one small emendation is in order. Mr. Kass points out that according to Genesis the sun was not created until the fourth day and asks if this . . . is not meant to impart some particle of wisdom, to correct “some aspects of our naive, untutored perception of our world.” He then . . . invokes a concept he calls “hierarchy” to account for this apparently irrational sequence. It seems to me, however, that Mr. Kass’s own reasoning points to a different explanation.
On the principle that the simplest explanation is most likely to be true, it would seem that the goal of the “author of Genesis” was simply to discredit . . . the idea that the sun—so essential in the food chain, hence vital to man—was the one God or even . . . His representative. Hence the sun is portrayed . . . as not even important enough to be the first thing created. . . . It is relegated to the same degree of religious authority as the moon, i.e., none at all, as both were not created until Day Four.
No great feat of imagination is required to conceive of what place in modern iconology the sun might have usurped had it been the first thing created. . . . It would have achieved the status of the physical proxy, if not the actual body, of the invisible God delineated in the Bible.
To the Editor:
While Leon R. Kass briefly refers to biologists who hold that God could create through the evolutionary process, he does not emphasize the importance of this point. Man has been creating new species through such means for a long time now; do fundamentalists or evolutionists deny God’s ability to do the same?
Mr. Kass slights the implications of the big-bang theory even more. One should perhaps consider that science has not yet concluded whether it was creatio ex nihilo or from some original material. Prime candidate for the latter is matter at its highest level of entropy, totally dispersed, without form or movement, without energy differential, chaos.
What if one were to attempt to explain the scientific concepts of the creation to primitive people; would one not end up with a story very much like Genesis 1? Maimonides already knew that the Torah speaks in the language of man. Simple analogies would have to be used, and are. Some discrepancies are, indeed, jarring; and that is where explanations such as those of Mr. Kass regarding the necessary “demotion” of the sun are most valuable. . . .
Finally, it is worth considering that the real object of the creation may have not been Homo sapiens but Homo sapiens sapiens, or the conscious human. Increasingly, scientists consider the possibility that consciousness developed much later than primitive civilizations, much later than language; indeed, it may be only a few thousand years old. . . . It is, then, not unreasonable to suggest that consciousness took hold in the conventional mode of natural selection, over a few millennia. . . . Rereading Genesis 3 in that light may also be instructive.
To the Editor:
Leon R. Kass is introduced to us by COMMENTARY as a biochemist and by himself (“we evolutionists”) as an evolutionist. I know of no evidence that he is qualified in either of these two fields.
It is customary to treat Genesis 1 with reverence, because of its religious standing. Were it not for this, its relation to evolution would be . . . analogous to a comparison between the signs of the zodiac and modern astrophysics. Astronomers do not have to argue with astrologers; in this they are more fortunate than biologists who are continually pestered by fundamentalists.
With a wave of the hand, Mr. Kass dismisses “creation science.” This is to his credit. He decries “the quality of reasoning in the few publications I have seen.” Surely he should read more; copious lists will reach him from the Institute for Creation Research on request, including titles such as “Evolution, the Fossils Say No,” “The Twilight of Evolution,” “The Genesis Flood,” “Have You Been Brainwashed?,” “Dinosaurs, Those Terrible Lizards,” and “Dry Bones.” Why does Mr. Kass not use a little of the ample space in his article to tell readers of the travesties that are foisted on schools as “science textbooks” as a result of creationist pressures, and of the harassment of schoolteachers who teach evolution?
Modern evolution has no connection with Genesis 1. It has gone molecular, and gone into computers. It is DNA, RNA, and protein sequences. Its basis was stated by geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” It has its own peer-reviewed journals—Journal of Molecular Evolution, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Journal of Human Evolution, Origins of Life, and others—and it spills over into all major biological journals: Nature, Science, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Genetics, Heredity, and on and on. A typical title: “Structural and evolutionary implications of the packaging of DNA for differentiation and proliferation in the lymphocyte.” In short, a world far from the horizon of COMMENTARY.
It is not surprising that an ancient and monotheistic people should reason that God was the first cause. I have never heard an evolutionist challenge this. Many agree with Father Theodore Hesburgh that there is no way to place limits on the powers of the Creator. Such matters are outside the realm of science.
But Mr. Kass fails to note that in Genesis 1 (which he quotes), the appearance of grass, herbs, and trees preceded the making of the sun. He says, “God asks the earth to ‘grass grass,’ but the earth instead put forth grass” (emphasis in original). But Genesis 1:11-12 says, “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass” (who edited Mr. Kass’s manuscript?). . . . “And the earth brought forth grass.” Where is the “disobedience” alleged by Mr. Kass? Why does Mr. Kass conveniently omit mention of Genesis 2:21-22, the making of woman from one of Adam’s ribs? Mr. Kass alludes briefly to Noah’s Ark in terms that imply his literal belief in this charming myth: a myth that is filled with facts and figures that make it quite impossible. Given the dimensions of the Ark and its wooden construction, the first stiff breeze would have broken it up. Its capacity was only a fraction of what was needed for the animals and their food supply, not to speak of their specialized requirements for housing. . . .
Mr. Kass asks, “Did God not make frogs and alligators? Could they be later ‘creatures’ evolving out of an exclusively watery niche?” Please, Mr. Kass! Where do you think you came from? Please go read any zoology textbook, Chapter 1: Evolution and Classification of Vertebrates. Fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, Kass.
Thomas H. Jukes
Journal of Molecular Evolution
University of California
To the Editor:
Thank you for the article, “Evolution and the Bible,” by Leon R. Kass. It was wonderful food for thought.
I do not think, however, that Genesis 1:14-17 states that the sun, the moon, and the stars were created on the fourth “day.” Genesis does not tell us when earth or sun came to be, except that it was “in [the] beginning.” Genesis has no dates.
Genesis 1:16 says, “Va-ya’as elohim et shenei ha-me’orot,” and God made the source of these luminaries, sun and moon, visible on earth, no doubt by a change in earth’s atmosphere. Created (bara‘) in Genesis 1 is not synonymous with ‘asah, to make. If it were, Genesis 2:3, where both are used, would be pleonastic. . . .
Rashi (1040-1105 CE.) supposed that Genesis 1:17 meant only that sun and moon were “suspended” in the expanse on the fourth day after having been created earlier. On this “day,” sun and moon assumed the function in relation to the earth that they have now, after a change in the primeval atmosphere that prevented them from doing so previously.
‘Asah (to “make” or “do”) is rendered 74 different ways in the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible—“work,” “appoint,” “fashion,” “accomplish,” “finish,” “make ready,” “prepare,” etc., etc. Bara’, on the other hand, used only of God, only means “create.” The terms are not synonymous in Genesis.
Incidentally, bore’, creator, is bari in Arabic, where it also means “evolver.” . . . Because God is bore’ and ‘oseh, he both creates and makes. Perhaps the “makes” leaves room for what scientists call “evolution.”
Solomon M. Landers
To the Editor:
. . . It is obvious that Leon R. Kass is certain of God’s reality, and it is clear that this faith sustains him. But doesn’t an a priori belief in God affect the entire course of a line of reasoning which deals with the role God has played in our creation? What about those of us who think the arguments for the existence of God are tenuous at best? Or those of us who hold a non-theistic faith (such as Buddhism)? Or those of us who are simply unsure? Might we not interpret the Book of Genesis in a different light? I would simply ask Mr. Kass (respectfully) if he has arrived at an answer before he has asked the question.
I would ask further why he believes that it is science’s job to consider “the ultimate sources and origins of things” if by “ultimate sources” he means the role of a divine creator in bringing all things into existence. How can we ask science to tackle such a question and still expect it to be scientific? If the basis of science is empiricism, and if the doctrine of divine origins rests solely on biblical assertion, in what manner can science hope to proceed? What evidence can it gather? What experiments can it conduct? How can the subject of God’s existence, nature, and function be put to any scientific test, presumably one that can be replicated? . . .
I suppose what bothers me the most about Mr. Kass’s article (however deeply felt and argued) is that it seems to be saying that if we cannot figure out what came before the big bang (if indeed the word “before” has any relevance in a timeless situation), if we have not yet figured out how the chemical evolution behind DNA got started, and if we do not yet understand the nature of consciousness, we should turn to Genesis and be assured that all is as it should be and that we are the crown of creation. We are being asked to accept the proposition that since the writers of Genesis wrote certain statements that can be interpreted as consistent with the findings of modern science, this therefore proves the divine origin of the world and its living beings.
But it appears to me that this conclusion can be arrived at only by stretching the evidence out of all recognition. For example, how can inanimate matter exhibit the quality of recalcitrance? Recalcitrance is a volitional act. And what of the analogy of creation with fruit trees making fruit? Surely we could take any object in the natural world and use it to demonstrate the “truth” of any particular proposition. (Mr. Kass himself recognizes the limitations of this example.) It appears to me that all the comparisons made between Genesis and natural science’s findings are overly broad, superficial, and coincidental in nature.
I am unwilling to embrace the misleading certainties of the Bible simply because we have not yet answered all of the questions we have concerning the ultimate origins of our world. If Stephen Hawking succeeds in mathematically eliminating the need for a first cause; if A.G. Cairns-Smith succeeds in demonstrating the mineral origins of life on our planet; and if indeed the evidence of evolution through natural selection is shown to prove the universe does not have a conscious design (the contention of Richard Dawkins), where does that leave Mr. Kass’s analysis of Genesis? . . .
Joseph A. Miller
To the Editor:
. . . There is one very important reason why we should not take Genesis 1 as literal history—namely, the second chapter. In the first chapter the order of creation is plant life, animal life, then humanity. In the second chapter . . . the order of creation is first man, then plant life, animal life, and finally woman. It is obvious that the details of these two creation stories do not match—and so we must conclude that the ancient Israelites did not expect us to interpret these stories literally, or they would have altered the details so that the two stories would have matched each other. As a Catholic, I believe in a literal creation and a literal fall, but I also have to conclude that Genesis was never intended to be a science textbook. At the same time I have to say that I do not think science textbooks are infallible, and that . . . many scientific theories are based on presumption as much as on observation. . . .
To the Editor:
I would like to add two observations to Leon R. Kass’s lucid and astute corrective to the longstanding tendency—apparently as resilient as it is misguided—to view as irreconcilable the creation account in Genesis and the doctrine . . . of evolution.
First, . . . the lawful character of the cosmos is no less a function of divine decree than is its existence. . . . Thus, “natural processes” and their outcomes are no less attributable to divine decree than would be the most staggering of miracles.
Second, Mr. Kass seems troubled by the idea of creation “out of God’s own substance,” which he believes to be in contradistinction to the text’s insistence on the bifurcation between God and the world. However, to the great relief of religious Jews with irrepressible “pantheistic” inclinations (such as myself), a number of kabbalists—and, accordingly, a number of hasidic sects—maintain that the divine substance is the only substance (or something very close to it), i.e., is all that there really is. This, needless to say, entails that the cosmos is created “out of God’s own substance.” Moreover, this in no way constitutes a serious vitiation of the distinction between God and the world, i.e., an unacceptable metaphysical assimilation of the world to God. . . .
To the Editor:
One characteristic of Genesis 1 that Leon R. Kass does not emphasize sufficiently and another that he overlooks entirely would add strength to two of his arguments. (1) Genesis 1 points to the ontological order of creation and is not a report of simple temporal sequences; and (2) Genesis 1 shows human beings to be open-ended historical and moral creatures who cannot be accounted for by a biologically reductionist science.
The characteristic of Genesis 1 that should be emphasized to strengthen Mr. Kass’s argument is the full six-day hierarchy of creatures. Mr. Kass focuses his attention almost entirely on the two parallel groups of three days. Perhaps this aspect of the text seems too obvious to require further emphasis. But the meaning of the creation story’s “divisions” and “distinctions” fit together in a pattern where the later creatures rule over, or (in the case of humans) have stewardship responsibilities for, the creatures of earlier days. Whatever the degree of continuity in the “comings-into-being” of the different creatures (as far as evolutionary biological theory might stress), the fact remains that Genesis 1 stresses not simply the distinction among different kinds, but a hierarchy of order, as Mr. Kass points out, such that human creatures are stewards over all, under God.
According to Genesis 1, each of the six days has its own “place” in the full hierarchy. The realities that each day “brings forth” are creatures that exist simultaneously with every other creature and not simply in temporal sequence before or after them. If biological evolutionists err in stressing potential biological continuity to the point of ignoring the peculiar meaning and character of all the different creatures, then the “creation-science” people err in a kind of temporal reductionism which hangs too much on the “time” of the creation days. Genesis 1 is a simple but beautifully complex and harmonious ontology of creation that achieves all that Mr. Kass says it does. But the full six-day hierarchy of order and subordination should not be lost from sight.
The second aspect of the story that Mr. Kass overlooks entirely is that the creation is a seven-day order, not a six-day order. It is true that to make this judgment one must follow the story into the first part of Genesis 2, but there is important textual evidence which suggests that the second creation story (to which Mr. Kass refers) begins with Genesis 2:4 and not with 2:1. There is no way to make sense out of the entire covenantal order of Israel’s life under God without seeing that it is based on a seven-day pattern that is rooted in the seven-day order of creation. (See Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.)
How does this strengthen Mr. Kass’s argument? His argument about human creatures is that their moral purpose in the creation is not evident simply from the order of the creatures themselves. Human nature is not yet “good” in the sense of “complete, fully formed,” “determinate, finished.” Human beings, in fact, were created for a task—called to a responsibility for the creation under God that requires the ongoing hearing of God’s voice and giving heed to the One who created them with a destiny.
The seven-day order of creation sheds further light on the meaning of this reality. God’s seventh day of shalom is not His sitting back in tiredness, but rather His glorying in a completion and fulfillment that is tied, in part, to the completion of the human task. The seventh day is the end or goal of all creation; it is the destiny of human fulfillment following the completion of the work (and moral calling) given by God to man and woman in their generations. . . .
Thus, the open-ended historical character of human nature has its meaning, according to Genesis 1, not first of all as a potential for further biological evolution within the sixth day but as a potential for communion in society and with God toward the ultimate “rest” toward which God has called His image. Even if one grants the possibility of species change, as Mr. Kass does, he is correct that this does not answer the most important questions about the identity and meaning of different creatures, especially of human beings. With regard to action, society, and politics, as he says, “the cosmos can have nothing at all to say or teach about all the important questions of human beings living with other human beings” (emphasis in original).
Insofar as Genesis 1 helps people to recognize that human creatures are more than biotic entities, one ought to take note of the full scope of that story (through Genesis 2:3) and emphasize that the creation is a seven-day and not a six-day ontology.
James W. Skillen
To the Editor:
In “Evolution and the Bible”, Leon R. Kass shows that the Bible intends not history but axiology in its first chapters. . . . In this respect, the rabbis are in wholehearted agreement with Mr. Kass. They do not look to Genesis for the mechanics of creation—mechanics falls outside the whole function of revelation.
There are 290 comments on the first verse of Genesis scattered throughout talmudic and pseudo-talmudic literature. A random survey of one hundred of these is, I think, a statistically sufficient basis to say that the rabbis did not read Genesis as a cosmogonie account. In fact, not a single one of the hundred texts I have examined is frankly cosmogonie.
We can extend this further. The Bible nowhere exhibits any intention to tell us things scientific (it satirizes the cause-and-effect claims for the rites of witches or of pagan priests). And it certainly does not present itself as a substitute for this pseudo-science—or proto-science if you like—of the ancient world. The Bible’s rites are never mechanisms by which to manipulate God.
The extent to which Judaism sees itself as purely prescriptive is made immediately clear by Rabbi Yitzhak of the 2nd century, who found our fascinating Torah cosmogony totally irrelevant. “The Torah should have begun with the first of the  commandments,” Rabbi Yitzhak wrote. “Why then did it begin with this [the story of creation]? . . .”
A thousand years later Rashi found this remark of Rabbi Yitzhak so fitting that he selected it from those 290 talmudic comments to introduce his own extensive commentary on the Holy Scriptures. Rabbi Yitzhak’s comment reflects an attitude in the Bible itself and in its rabbinic mirror—that all of the Bible, precept and narrative alike, has one primary function: “to purify the creatures.”
Rabbi Avraham Karelitz, known as the Hazon Ish and considered the leading talmudist of our century, exemplified this classic view. He once reproached a student who had left the yeshiva to pursue studies in the university. “But,” demurred the student, “I thirst for science and philosophy and literature. For the arts and history. There is more to truth than just Torah.” “I will agree with you,” replied the Hazon Ish, “when you will find me one person who has become a better human being through his study of those subjects.”
Mr. Kass finds himself, at the end of the article, pushed toward a conclusion from which he retreats. He writes: “I have perhaps gone too far. . . . Creation becomes a process of God’s fructification, out of God’s own substance.”
Mr. Kass here confronts the pantheist dilemma which is intrinsic in monotheism itself. . . . It has led to various schisms in Judaism and Christianity. . . . But the dilemma has never been rationally resolved. How can God be all-inclusive if He is totally unlike the world? If the physical, the temporal, the spatial, cannot apply to Him? . . .
Joshua B. Wachtfogel
Institute of Science, Philosophy, and Religion
Leon R. Kass writes:
It is, I know, not very original for authors to complain that they have been misread. But in matters theological, dyslexia easily becomes epidemic. Indeed, it is the notorious misreadings of Genesis 1—by both its friends and its enemies—that prompted my article in the first place. I was not writing to vindicate Judaism or to refute science, to voice a “Kierkegaardian dread” (I have none) or to support an “a priori belief in God’s reality,” to advance a new and original reading (I acknowledged my great debt to Umberto Cassuto and Leo Strauss), or even to “harmonize the Bible with the teachings of science,” but, quite simply, to try to understand the text of Genesis 1, by taking seriously all that it—and it alone—explicitly says: “First, to see what it actually says and means; second, to see what sort of text it is, and third, to see whether it is the sort of text and says the sort of things that can be disproved by science.”
The great bulk of my essay was textual exegesis and interpretation, which enabled me to show that Genesis 1 is not incompatible with modern science, not because they both teach the same things, but rather because they do not speak about the same subject. I argued that the seemingly temporal account of Genesis 1 is in fact a means of conveying the immanent hierarchic order of our world and its intelligible principles. More important, this “ontological” account is driven by a moral intention, “to show, in small print, the incompleteness and ambiguity of the human, and, in bold print, the lack of divinity and moral irrelevance of the entire visible cosmos.” True, I defended, as still tenable, some of Genesis’s main teachings: the hierarchy of existing beings; the superior-but-metaphysically-ambiguous-and-morally-questionable-status of human beings; the non-divinity of the sun, moon, and all of nature; and the deep mystery of the ultimate beginnings—none of which we moderns need deny. But my main conclusion was “that Genesis is not the sort of book that can be refuted—or affirmed—on the basis of scientific or historical evidence . . . because its truths are metaphysical and ethical, not scientific or historical, because it teaches mainly about the status and human meaning of what is rather than about the mechanism by which things work or came to be.” True, I did, in the end, directly confront the notions of “creation” and “evolution,” but my intent here was to keep open the question of their meaning and relation, once again by correcting certain common misreadings of the text: Genesis 1 does not proclaim a static world created once and for always the same, does not clearly assert creation ex nihilo, and does not make clear precisely “how” creation was accomplished, i.e., whether by natural or “supernatural” processes, whether by “artistic making” or by the gradual self-differentiation of some ultimate substance.
This summary and statement of intent should correct the major misreadings; let me now address some specific comments.
Leo Blond suggests, rightly, that “the rules of the game of science” preclude questions of ultimate cause, but implies, wrongly, that faith or dread is the only remaining alternative. I suggest, instead, wonder, openness, and thought, precisely appropriate because we do not know the ultimate beginnings and causes. We see an intelligible, unfolding, hierarchic order. Why, and how, this order? Why anything at all, rather than nothing? Humility before these questions does not demand orthodoxy, but it should make one suspicious of scientific “proofs” of atheism.
Tim Donovan, Jr. thinks he—or rather, science—has offered such proof: in the big-bang theory of cosmogony. But this theory is descriptive, not causal, and, in any case, touches the “origin” only in the sense of beginnings, not in the sense of source. What “was” “there” “before” the big bang? Why this universe rather than some other, or none at all? Such metaphysical questions science will not ask and cannot answer, but they are not therefore meaningless.
It is encouraging to be told that one has stumbled onto what Rashi or Maimonides has taught. But Rabbi Nachum Braverman’s comments exaggerate the similarities between my account and theirs. For one thing, the earth does not obediently bring forth the living animals as bidden (1:24), but God instead had to make them (1:25). More importantly, Rabbi Braverman insists that the word bara’ means creation ex nihilo, but this is almost certainly post-hoc interpretation, and question-begging. The text itself is simply unclear. Much depends on how one reads the first verse: is it a summary or chapter heading (as I, following Cassuto, think) or does it describe a first creative act? And, on other matters, have the rabbinic sources stressed the “resistance” to the imposition and maintenance of order or the incompleteness (non-goodness) of man?
Robert Greengard will find his point made, with emphasis, in Part IV of my essay. Andrew Sanders will find the suggestion that biblical “creation” might indeed be evolutionary amply emphasized in Part V.
Thomas H. Jukes needs to learn to read. So angry is he with the creation scientists that he fails to see that my reading of Genesis 1 is intended to show that their entire activity has no scriptural warrant, and that scrupulous textual fidelity does not support their cosmogonie fundamentalisms. Further, if Mr. Jukes will consult the Hebrew original (King James did not write the Bible!), he will indeed find the cognate accusative construction, “let the earth grass grass,” in the call (1:11), but “the earth put forth grass” in the execution (1:12). This discrepancy between speech and deed recurs regularly; for example, God tells the earth to put forth the land animals, but He had to make them. I repeat: only in the case of light is the deed letter for letter perfect to the command, a fact that seems to raise questions about God’s omnipotence and the world’s receptivity to order. And if Mr. Jukes would reread in context the other passages that shock him, he will find that he has misread and misunderstood me entirely.
To Solomon M. Landers, I point out that Genesis 1:16 tells of God’s making the luminaries, the sun and the moon, and 1:17 tells (next) of God’s placing them in the firmament, indeed “on” the fourth day (1:19). To support his insistence that “making” (‘asah) is not creating (bara‘), Mr. Landers relies only on outside evidence and also suggests that everything was created in verse 1:1. But though bara’ is used only of God, ‘asah in Genesis 1 is used both of trees and of God, in the latter case seemingly synonomously with bara’: for example, “let us make [‘asah] man” (1:26) and “God created [bara‘] man” (1:27). And Genesis 2:3, literally translated, reads “which God created [bara’] to do [‘asah],” i.e., to continue in activity. God, on the seventh day, rested from all the work that He had made (‘asah), in His creating.
My general remarks above should help Joseph A. Miller see what I thought I was about. I did not argue that our present ignorance of the ultimate proves the biblical thesis of divine creation; I did argue that nothing we knew disproved it—or could disprove it—especially if we do not know what we mean by “creation.” I did indeed defend the biblical claim that man stands higher (but therefore less completed) than the other living things, not because of scientific ignorance or biblical authority, but simply because it is true. The so-called “recalcitrance of matter” was a medieval doctrine to explain why form and intelligible order were not always successfully imposed or maintained, say, during generation; it in no way implied that matter literally had will. Most readers of Genesis 1 will be surprised to see here some intimations of the same sort of teaching. Finally, Mr. Miller should be more skeptical about the metaphysical claims of scientists, who, by their own rules, should have nothing metaphysical to say. How, pray tell, can one “mathematically eliminate” the need for a first cause? How can the fact of evolution prove atheism? These facile conclusions deserve at least as much skepticism as the unwarranted fundamentalist claims for creation ex nihilo 6,000 years ago.
Don Schenk’s comment serves to point up the difficulty with the idea of “literalness.” I read Genesis quite literally; that is, I think every word counts. But the goal is to discern the guiding intention or meaning of the story, which is not necessarily had by taking each sentence as historical or factual assertion. Mr. Schenk believes in a “literal creation.” Well and good. But then what is creation? Is it from nothing? Is it like the making of artifacts? Is it instantaneous or gradual—i.e., evolving? Leaving the latter-day theologians alone, what is Genesis 1’s answer to these questions? Hard to say.
I thank Messrs. Oakes, Skillen, and Wachtfogel for their very thoughtful and stimulating letters. To Robert Oakes, I say that I am not personally troubled by the idea of “creation out of God’s own substance,” but only that I find no clear support for it in the text (perhaps because I do not have his “irrepressible pantheistic inclinations”). Indeed, Genesis 1:2 suggests not one principle but two: it seems clearly to distinguish the watery stuff and the divine spirit. To James W. Skillen: I regret not mentioning the seventh day, which later plays such a crucial role in the life of the children of Israel. The principle of separation, crucial to the whole account of creation, is further enshrined in the distinction between work and rest; later this metaphysical principle will be incorporated into human affairs as the principle of holiness, for which the separation of the Sabbath day is absolutely central. Because of my self-imposed task, I limited myself here to those beings familiar to us in ordinary experience and about which science might speak, i.e., the creatures of the “six days.”
Joshua B. Wachtfogel and I are on the same track but he seems to carry the ethical thrust slightly beyond where I myself would go. Granted, the first chapter seeks to answer questions to which the Torah never again refers. But it does so in a way that—if looked at closely—inspires as many questions as it answers. Though it is written in the service of righteousness and holiness, and though it demands obedience of conduct, the Torah does not demand that we sacrifice our intellects upon the altar of piety. The subtleties and contradictions of the text always beckon the thoughtful reader to the interpretive task, and to a philosophical—and not merely an authoritative—reading. This may explain why, at least among Jews, there are so many independent theologians, and why none of us, myself included, is likely ever to be immune to dyslexia.