Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Barth on zoology in Genesis

Here is part of Karl Barth's reflection on Genesis 1:20-21 about the creation of bird and sea life.
There is as little zoological interest in this account as there is botanical in v. 11 f. or astronomical in v. 14 f. For instance, the question whether what we call amphibians are to be classed with fish, or whether insects are to be classed with birds, is quite irrelevant from the standpoint of this passage. It would thus be childish to press against the saga the question whether birds ought not to be classified with land animals in view of the fact that they too are warm-blooded creatures, and build their nests and brood and find nourishment on the earth. 
At this point, as at others, the Church fathers can only obscure what the passage is really trying to say when in their commentaries and sermons they try on the one hand to make use of all the natural science of their day, and on the other to attach to its constituent parts the most diverse edifying and naturalistic allegorisings: a greedy man being typified by the predatory fish; ideal nuptial love and fidelity by the viper and muraena; .......; the godlessness of worldly wisdom, etc., by the owl with its fear of light, etc. (Ambrose, Hex. V) 
If we are to understand the passage we must turn our backs resolutely on all scientific or pious considerations and look only in the two directions which it indicates, namely, the depth of the ocean and the height of the atmosphere, to learn that in these spheres too God has creatures and witnesses to His Word, so that when we look in these directions we need not feel strange or frightened, for here too and particularly God has creatures and witnesses to His Word in the form of independent living beings which are very unlike and yet very like man himself, who has been called to live in obedience to the same Word.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1: The Doctrine of Creation,  page 173

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