Chapter 3. Long Evolution: Life Emerging
In this story so far, long evolution has used up 9.2 billion years to give us a feature-filled universe including the planet we will someday call Earth. Another 4.5 billion years must yet elapse before our favorite species appears on Earth, though life as such will appear in a mere fraction of that time, less than a billion years more. Or on God’s Fifth Day, as the case may be. As you would expect, at least two versions of life’s appearance are popular: the Genesis version and the scientific version. Actually, Genesis gives us two different versions and science is still arguing over which of several versions might be the real truth. Science’s version(s) will require that we question what we mean when we say the word “life” because, not surprisingly, many scientists can’t agree on a definition of the word. Genesis has no such problem – it’s authoritative.
Creation of life: the Biblical creation story
In the beginning God created life – but, as noted in chapter 2, not until after He had first created the heavens and the earth, created light and separated it from darkness, separated certain waters to points both above and below heaven, and separated the seas from the dry land. Then, on the fifth day, God populated the seas and the skies. He created life:
And God said “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.
And, as God would have it, swarm they did. The world’s oceans swarmed with swarms of living creatures – until the second half of the twentieth century, when drastic overfishing to feed overpopulated humanity and boost profits began pushing numerous sea species to near extinction, beginning with the wonderful codfish. Most ocean fish netted today for worldwide markets are less than half the size of fish routinely caught as recently as 1950. Their remaining, greatly reduced numbers are everywhere in rapid decline. Among God’s creatures nowadays, fewer and fewer species are sufficient in number to swarm.
On the sixth day God populated the land areas, culminating with creation of humans:
And God said “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…livestock according to their kinds and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.
Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
These last words have always been regarded as significant. The “image/likeness” idea is repeated four times in quick succession, in slightly variant words, so they seem intended to be read as important. Telling us that “male and female he created them” is presented last, as if two genders were a minor afterthought. The major emphasis here is clearly on God’s image.
Consider that. Someone who thinks very literally will probably assume that, because humans have faces, “after our likeness” means that God too has a face, complete with eyes, nose, mouth, chin; probably long hair, doubtless a beard. Most likely a body, all pretty much the same, perhaps with minor modifications for human genders since God – He – is unquestionably male. Some ancient mythical God-creators were undeniably female, but these will be ignored as they were decidedly ignored in the Judeo-Christian tradition emphasized here.
But notice: the words don’t actually say that “in his own image” means the way God “looks.” They could just as well mean the way God “is,” and nobody could prove that’s not what it really means. A very slight conceptual re-interpretation could take “image of God” to mean “personality attributes which God possesses,” rather than the way God “looks.” Thus, since humans display various emotional attributes – joy, love, remorse, anger and so on – we can reason that God probably has these same emotional attributes too. The Bible in fact speaks often of God’s anger as well as His love – not to mention his own self description “I am a jealous God” – so these attributes may reasonably be regarded as a way in which God made humans “in his own image” of himself, i.e., to feel and display a variety of emotional attributes. This brushes the matter with whole new meanings and possibilities.
Moreover, “God’s image” as attributes can also include “intellect,” i.e., the ability to think with reason and logic – in other words, to use the God-given power of one’s mind (which is only potential power if one does not use it well). Humans do indeed use reason and logic – sometimes; occasionally – so that too “must” be in God’s image. I rather like this one. “The image of God” is like God’s thinking, how He is thought to use His very thinking in such creative ways, how we too could creatively use our gift of this inborn God-like image – the ability to think – if we but would. But our schools do not teach How to Think as a subject, and so qualitative thinking techniques are learned accidentally if they are learned at all. Proclamation that no child will be left behind notwithstanding, they’re virtually all quite behind their limitless potential as children of God.
Reasoning forward from intellect, yet another image of God might refer to God’s essence, which undeniably is “spiritual” – meaning God is unquestionably non-material, or perhaps supra-material, i.e., more than material but including it. This concept – just as good as the other concepts – can mean that humanity, by being “in the image of God,” is of the same spiritual nature as is God himself. In this sense, “spiritual” must mean that humans are a God-like spiritual essence or aspect – shall we call it “soul?,” or perhaps “spirit?” – which is more immaterial than the material bodies we live in, and is more than the material ways in which we experience reality and interact with the apparently material world. A lot of humans believe this version, and I will address it more fully later.
How many are the valid meanings of “the image of God?” Jordan Wessling and Joshua Rasmussen, writing in the scholarly journal Theology and Science, reason similarly that “…it may very well be that the Supreme Being experiences a range of attitudes through a creation endowed with random processes. Perhaps God could be said to experience curiosity, anticipation, surprise and appreciation over a creation in which random processes are present.” And why not? If we accept the notion that “in the image of God” must mean that we humans are in one or more ways “like” God, then we have already accepted the obverse: that God is in one or more ways “like us.” Thus we have only to examine our own attributes to discover some of God’s attributes – not all, certainly, but undeniably “some.” The Bible’s source words are very clear on this point.
We all know how it feels to experience curiosity, anticipation, surprise, appreciation. Assuming God too feels these attributes, we might reasonably surmise that curiosity and anticipation motivated God to invent the big bang, and that God’s observations of the way things have unfolded since the bang enable God to feel surprise and appreciation. How very human-like. It might even be true. After all, preachers in their pulpits proclaim all the time how certainly they “know” what God is like and what God wants of you, you sinner, very much the same way so many scientists in their learned writings proclaim how certainly they “know” that God is a myth. In fact, neither of them “knows” anything at all about the Almighty Concept we call God. When it comes to thinking about what may be meant by “the image of God,” our speculations are quite as good as speculations from science and the pulpit. Maybe better, if our mindsets are more open than theirs.
Bodily appearance. Emotions. Intellect. Immaterial spiritual essence. Attitudes. Feelings. Obviously there’s a lot of potential packed in that brief little verse about “God’s image and likeness.” How much like God, do you think, are we purported children of God, really? My guess is that, at least, God has loftier thoughts and is much better behaved.
Fill it and subdue it
Returning to Genesis – immediately after making the first male and female, God did a yet more extraordinary thing which is having great repercussions right now, today, here in the twenty-first century. Speaking to the male and female…
…God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth
and subdue it,
and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens
and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Two points are worth noting here.
1) These words are very clear: humans received a God-given mandate to “multiply and fill the earth.” This no doubt was good advice at that ancient time. Today, however, we have indeed filled the earth, and are in many places overcrowded. Our exponentially expanding population has in fact so drastically overfilled the earth that our burgeoning numbers are driving just about every other major problem we face. To take these verses literally at this late date, and advocate for yet further population increase, constitutes an abdication of our ability to reason in the image of God, to think, to act sanely in our own interest and on behalf of our yet-more overcrowded children a generation hence. But many indeed are the “growth” mindsets that still advocate for more people, more, more.
Millions oppose birth control, seemingly unable to make the connection that the pressures from having too many of us on too little productive soil directly causes famines, abject poverty and suffering across whole continents; desperate and dangerous covert migrations across land borders and seas; exploding infant mortality; rapacious exploitation of dwindling natural resources – and all getting worse, the overwhelming ill effects of gross overpopulation too obvious to question. Yet many are the closed mindsets that do question, or ignore. Trust in God who will save us, they intone, while disdainfully admonishing welfare recipients that God helps those who help themselves.
Cause produces consequence. Opposition to limiting births, no matter how benign the means, persists. It is zealous among tribalists on several continents, and is official policy of Christianity’s largest denomination. God told us to be fruitful and multiply, so overbreeding new children into an increasingly resource-strained world is our holy God-given mandate, consequences bedamned.
2) God gave the two new humans a further mandate to subdue the earth, to have dominion (i.e., absolute control) over every last thing on the earth. This sounds like absolute license to control and exploit all the earth’s resources – all the birds, all the fishes, all other living things including millions of cattle, hogs and sheep in vast stockyards on their way to the abattoirs which supply the market’s endless urgent demand, along with every plant, tree, mineral, lump of coal, drop of oil, scrap of iron ore, rare metal, river and stream. And it is – that’s exactly how it’s taken: absolute license to exploit. Subduing the earth and all things on it is well understood by many today whose corporate business is fully rationalized by divine backing. You read it yourself, above.
And so, in pursuit of dominion over every living or non-living thing that moves on, flies over or resides in the earth, this interpretation is used to justify enormous profit margins made and streams ruined by strip mines and blown-off mountaintops; clearcut deforestation; replacing the rich diversity of personal farming with thousands of square miles of chemically sterilized corporate monoculture; genetically modifying and marketing seeds without testing them for negative effects on the earth’s ecological diversity; overfishing edible species to extinction in local streams, rivers and whole oceans; hunting and selling critically endangered species as bush meat; polluting and destroying natural habitat everywhere on Earth; fracking America; digging up tar sands to release yet more carbon dioxide and methane to further increase heat on the earth; and most other modern problems which have arisen from the stark facts of uncontrolled human overbreeding (be fruitful and multiply…fill the earth…) and out-of-control corporate greed (…and subdue it…have dominion over…) that both seem to come as natural as nature. God help us.
Variations on these widely revered Biblical verses are heard every day from many who, like the West Bank’s belligerent settler, feel justified to cry out: God gave all this to us, thousands of years ago. It’s already ours and always has been. We have dominion over it. It’s right there in Genesis, our divine right to use the earth so long as anything worth using remains, down to the very last bird, fish, mammal, plant – and drop of oil. See?!
Later on, that same sixth day, God said,
“Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life,
I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
It is intriguing, this implication (did you notice?) that God intended both humans and animals to be vegetarians. These verses are silent, however, on the implications of the existence of carnivores among the beasts of the earth that had been created earlier that same day. And the words seem innocent of the purpose of human “eye teeth” – our own version of the flesh-tearing fangs found in all carnivores and omnivores. Notice also that the third sentence gives to all the beasts, birds and creeping things “every green plant for food,” thus straightforwardly indicating that the green plants are to be shared between them, who also have the breath of life, and us.
But it’s already too late in those many world areas where humans have bulldozed away the natural green plants and rain forests to make way for monoculture plantations drenched in pesticides, thereby dispossessing the beasts, birds and creeping things. And it keeps spreading ever wider – in the Amazon, in Indonesia, in Knox County Indiana where the rural roads no longer have shoulders – the alfalfa-fragrant fields I used to roam are now cultivated to the very edge of the asphalt. Values have been forfeit as farming evolved. In this lifetime by choice, I will not return again to my boyhood Indiana home.
Then on the seventh day, as we all know, God rested:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
Taken literally these redundant words justify the Saturday worship services of Seventh-Day Adventists and Jewish congregations, a respite from incessant blaring commerce taken instead on Sunday by many others. This Godly precedent is now ignored on both days by corporate retailers who well know that if they build it we will come, and $pend.
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…to be continued in one week…
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