Today we begin to note various statements made in museum displays that reflect theological judgments that go well beyond the clear statements of the Bible and which are not necessarily widely held by Christians who take the Bible as their sole or primary authority for theology.
One is the explanation of God's slaying of an animal to provide covering for Adam and Eve's nakedness (Genesis 3:21). The display says (emphasis inserted):
God killed animals to provide skins to cover Adam and Eve. This was the first sacrifice to cover their sin. For centuries, animals would continue to be sacrificed for sin. But because humans are not related to animals, animal sacrifices cannot take away sin. They can only cover it temporarily.
Viewing this episode as a sacrifice is, of course, more than the text actually says. But we don't object to that assertion: it is one commonly made by interpreters and is not without justification.
However, as far as we know, there's nothing explicit in the Bible about animal sacrifice being inadequate to atone for human sin specifically because animals are "not related" to humans, though we invite gentle readers to offer textual support for this notion if they can find it. Yes, Hebrews asserts the inadequacy of animal sacrifice for atonement, but not on this basis as such.
So why this assertion? We think the answer is simple. Ham is seeking a theological means of excluding the possibility of macro-evolution. If animals cannot atone for human sin, but if a creature "related" to humans can atone for human sin, then animals cannot be related to humans.
Of course, there is a logical error here, even granting the premise about relatedness. Could a "related" creature still be inadequate for substitutionary atonement for another reason? That seems possible enough: because the creature is of lesser value than the one for whom it is given as a substitute is one obvious possibility.
But what if it isn't just relatedness that matters? What if it's identity: actually being the very same kind of creature? Then even a related animal is inadequate: we need one of the same kind, not just a related kind. Hmm.
Further, Ham is happy to assert a similarity between humans and other animals in other parts of his exposition. It is important to him that humans and animals are nephesh (a subject for another posting), but plants are not. Clearly he sees similarities and differences between humans and other animate creatures, as just about everyone does who has ever contemplated the matter.
Ham's assertion is, in our theological opinion, unwarranted. Hebrews, obviously unconcerned as the book is about Darwinian macro-evolution, says less about the atonement problem than Ham does, and Anselm is a better guide to the logic of atonement than Ham. The degree to which humans are "related" to animals can't be settled a priori on Ham's theological ground. If all animals are descended from a common ancestor (and we don't know whether they are or not), the doctrine of the atonement is unaffected.
Again, our primary objection to all this is not that such conjectures are bad in themselves. It is the absolutist rhetoric of the presentation. The museum asserts that this view and this view alone constitutes the only valid interpretation of the biblical doctrine of creation. One must have all of it or none of it. But those who note what is included in this all-or-nothing choice need to know how much is Bible and how much is problematic conjecture.