How could Adam have named millions of different species on Day 6 if it was only 24 hours? This is a common objection to a straightforward view of Genesis 1.
One important point is that we cannot be dogmatic on the actual number of species on Earth. Oxford University zoologist Robert May writes:
“At the purely factual level, we do not know to within an order of magnitude how many species of plants and animals we share the globe with: fewer than 2 million are currently classified, and estimates of the total number range from under 5 million to more than 50 million.” [Emphasis added]1
There are several factors, which may not be immediately obvious to the casual reader, that need to be considered. Firstly, Adam did not have to go out and round up or track any of these animals. Genesis 2:19 clearly states that God brought the animals to Adam. Secondly, although many objectors have claimed that the species Adam had to observe and name would have numbered in the millions, the actual number would almost certainly have been only a small fraction of this.
Note that Scripture explicitly states that Adam named all the ‘livestock’ (Heb. behemah), the ‘birds of the air’ (Heb. oph hassamayim) and all the ‘beasts of the field’ (Heb. chayyah hassadeh). There is no indication that Adam named the fish in the sea, or any other marine organisms, nor any of the insects, beetles or arachnids. In fact, of the two million known species, 98% are invertebrates, which include a variety of animals from sponges, worms and jellyfish, to mollusks and insects. The remaining 2% are vertebrates and number approximately 40,000 species.2 This number is further reduced when the 25,000 marine vertebrates3 and four thousand amphibians4 are discounted, since they clearly do not fit into any of the categories of animals listed in Genesis 2:20.
In addition, assuming that speciation has been an on-going occurrence since Creation, the eleven thousand vertebrate species in question would have most likely descended from a much smaller number of proto-species. Each would be the ancestors of animals in the group that taxonomists call a genus5 (or possibly the higher taxonomic order known as a family6) and what the Genesis account calls a ‘kind’.7 Since many genera contain dozens, even hundreds, of species, it is far more likely that Adam had to name only a couple of thousand of these proto-species—a task which could easily have been achieved in a few hours. (Assuming Adam had to name 2,500 proto-species (genera), and he named a single proto-species every five seconds, it would have taken him approximately three hours and forty-five minutes to complete the task if we include a five-minute break every hour.)
It is important to note that God’s purpose in parading all the animals before Adam was not merely so that he would give them names. It was also to reinforce the fact that he was different in kind from the rest of creation, so that none of these animals could ever serve as a physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual companion. So God made from Adam’s rib a companion who was suitable (Genesis 2:21–24).
May, R.M., How many species are there on Earth?, Science241(4872):1441–1449, 1988 | doi: 10.1126/science.241.4872.1441. Return to text.
Burnie, D., ‘Animal’, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002, encarta.msn.com. Return to text.
Burnie, D., ‘Vertebrate’, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002, encarta.msn.com. Return to text.
Woodmorappe, J, Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, ICR, El Cajon, CA, USA, 1996. This tabulates all the creatures on the Ark by assuming that the kind corresponded to today’s genera. But this is to be as generous to the skeptics as possible, and even then there would be only 16,000 animals on the Ark as obligate passengers. Return to text.
Batten, D., Ligers and Wholphins? What next?, Creation22(3):28–33, 2000; creation.com/liger. This points out several examples of fertile hybrids between members of different genera with a family. This means that they are really a single polytypic species, and supports identification of the kind with today’s families. Return to text.
Burnie, D., ‘Vertebrate’, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002, encarta.msn.com.
Chris C., United States, 31 August 2016
It should also be noted that Adam had not yet suffered the adverse effects of the Fall, so he would certainly have been intellectually up to the task of naming a large number of animals.
Brian L., United States, 31 August 2016
Excellent display of research and even a mention of the Hebrew text...who would have guessed. The only thing I would have added is that in fact there is no real conclusion that it all had to happen on the 6th day. The text just says that God just began to bring them to Adam. The text doesn't say that he brought them all on the same day in fact in 2.19b kol eth must be translated 'everything which he designated it (to be)', not 'everything'. Hence the text does not say he named everything. However I like your explanation as well. Regardless this was a mental exercise for someone who wasn't even 'born yesterday' (lol) and the language and maturity had to be instilled into him before he could proceed.
Andrew Kulikovsky responds
You say the naming didn’t need to be completed on day 6. That is not correct. Genesis 1:27 states that God created both male and female on day 6, so the naming of the animals must have been completed first on day 6 (otherwise how could it be concluded that no suitable helper was found), and then woman was created.
Dave D., United States, 2 September 2016
There is no requirement that Adam named the animals according to our modern scientific nomenclature. When we see a bird with a flat bill and webbed feet we say, "That's a Duck", a name that covers many species and kinds. Adam could have done the same.
sandra W., Canada, 9 September 2016
Appreciate this article. Particularly appreciate the last paragraph. In a culture that increasingly tries to tell is that animals are equal to man, I thank you for speaking truth.
D. K., Ghana, 11 September 2016
Yes Adam is the one who named the animals but in what language because every language has its own way of naming things . Like in english a lion is 'LION' and in ghanaian twi the name is 'GYATA'
Warren Nunn responds
No-one today knows what language Adam spoke, and the Bible doesn't tell us. When there was only one language before the Tower of Babel, there would have been a word for 'lion' that everyone understood. After Babel, when different languages were spoken, that obviously changed.
For a more detailed article on this subject, see Talking point.