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Can Biblical "kinds" have a clear technical meaning?

Post of the Month: October 2009


Subject:    | Hebrew dictionary on "species"
Date:       | 20 Oct 2009
Message-ID: |

Suzanne (a creationist) wrote:
>>>> The word "species" is a smaller category than the word "kinds." Kinds is
>>>> more like Genus, or Family, or other.

TimothyR replies:
>>> But there's the logic trap. The Biblical writers observed and described
>>> individual animals. Every individual animal you see is a member of a
>>> species.

>>> Where are you going to find a kind to look at? How do you know a kind even
>>> exists? If it's merely a conceptual grouping and you can't see one?

Suzanne responds:
>> Well ........ Linnaeus is the one who used the word species as well as
>> genus, because in the Latin version of the Bible which he seems to have
>> been using, the word "kind" is translated as "species" in the English
>> translation of the Latin Bible. So he was speaking of a "kind" as being a
>> species.

Ye Old One intervenes:
> The word "species" in Latin, literally means appearance or form, though it
> can also have a meaning associated with beauty. It comes from the Latin root
> "specere" 'to look'.

John Wilkin's [Draws breath] and answers:
Okay, allow me ... "species" is a vernacular term of Latin that, yes, has an etymology from appearance, but actually the etymology is irrelevant to its use, especially in classical and medieval Latin. It basically, as Locke pointed out, means "kind" and has no particular technical meaning in ordinary language. Likewise, "miyn" in Hebrew means "kind" and has no particular technical meaning in ordinary usage; the same is true of all languages that have a term that is cognate to "kind", according to anthropological studies of the term.

The term "species" acquires technical meanings in logic, metaphysics, theology, and currency. These are all relatively distinct and unusual, with respect to the vernacular meaning. They are not intertranslateable, and they are very special to the field in which they are used. In theology, for example, it means the outward appearance of the Host. In currency it means a small kind of coin. In logic it means a formal class. In metaphysics it means a part of a universal. And so on.

When non-biological (and non-theological, etc.) texts use the term "kind" it means little more than that things are collected together for some reason. In the case of living things, societies gather things together in terms of the progeny resembling the parents. The technical meaning of "species" in natural history before the modern period is basically that. And, as was once pointed out on this group, one of the very translators of the King James Bible themselves thought that species were not fixed.

Linnaeus is not the man who introduced the term into natural history. That was Conrad Gesner or Kaspar Bauhin in the 16th century. He is not the man who defined it for natural history (in fact he never defined the term) - that is John Ray at the end of the 17th century. Moreover, Linnaeus did not think species were fixed towards the end of his career.

In any case how the term was translated for the Bible is meaningless. It was just a vernacular term. It didn't have a technical meaning, either in the Vulgate or in the English version.

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