(continued) Chapter 3. Long Evolution: Life Emerging
Biblical scholars generally agree that the creation verses above, found in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, were authored in the sixth century BCE by some unknown author(s) identified only as “P,” meaning a member(s) of the priestly class. About 1,500 years later – around the ninth century CE according to scholars, and long after dominion over all the earth had been so expanded that male dominance over lawmaking, beasts, slaves and women had also become well established in that Levantine part of the ancient world – a second creation story was written.
Significantly, this later version, which appears in the second chapter of Genesis (verses 4-24), deals redundantly (and only) with the creation of the first man and woman. As to all the other species created in the original Chapter 1 version, it is silent. This later version presents certain noticeable differences from the original version, which differences you may or may not think important, depending on your mindset.
In Genesis 1 the first man and woman were created simultaneously (“male and female he created them”), and that only after God had finished creating all the other animals. Think of Adam and Eve as a sort of afterthought. In the Genesis 2 version, by contrast, the man – and only the man – is created first, before any plants or other animals. Or woman.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had sprung up…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
With that out of the way, God then turns to creating the other fauna – to be man’s companions and helpers, it says – and permits the man to name them.
…Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
…But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
So finally in this Genesis 2 version, after all other business has been finished but, alas, a helper fit for Adam has not been identified during all the animal namings, comes the final act: a woman gets created in God’s attempts to make the man a little handy helper, one good enough to be “fit” for the man:
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Unlike the matter-of-fact equality of Genesis 1, Wo-Man originates here as a subordinate subset of Man – a glass ceiling that would be difficult to pass through for quite some time to come, even though all future Men would attain their very existence through exotically painful birthing by Wo-Men. Of passing interest, the immediate next verse in this Genesis 2 version states:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
“Therefore,” it says. The first word is therefore. So we should ask: Why does it say “therefore?” Most folks will agree that holding fast and becoming one flesh is a good idea, and as often as possible too. And leaving behind one’s parents so that holding fast can be accomplished in privacy is certainly desirable too, though not an essential precondition. Therefore, under all rules of language, truth and logic, that first word “therefore” has no business being included in the narrative. But it is, so why is it? “Therefore” has meaning, so what meaning did this late-comer author have in mind?
Whenever we use the word “therefore,” in any context, it necessarily must be preceded by conditional if-then or cause-effect or before-after logic of some nature. Conditional logic is what the word “therefore” exists to convey – the reason our communicative faculties brought the word into existence. But there is no such conditional logic here. The fact that a woman came into existence, and Adam then named her, can in no sense lead to any “therefore” conclusion about anything, much less subsequent marital behavior to be expected of the man or the wo-man. By default, therefore, we must view this verse as doctrinaire sermonizing by this ninth-century male chauvinist’s sexist mindset that the original words in Genesis 1, implying the man and woman were co-equals, wasn’t good enough – a seemingly irresistible attraction to religious revisionists in all ages.
He needn’t have worried, for much older precedents on male-over-female status were already available. In the 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy, only four books after Genesis, verses 28-29 lay out criteria for forcibly acquiring a virgin wife: “When a man comes upon a virgin who is not pledged in marriage and forces her to lie with him, and they are discovered, then the man who lies with her shall give the girl’s father fifty pieces of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has dishonoured her. He is not free to divorce her all his life long.” Poetic justice, but so much for romance. Of passing interest, verses 23-24 address related contingencies: “When a virgin is pledged in marriage to a man and another man comes upon her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them out to the gate of that town and stone them to death; the girl because, although in the town, she did not cry for help, and the man because he dishonoured another man’s wife.” There’s quite a bit more like this, you can read it if so inclined. It is not irrelevant, for such “justice” remains popular today in many middle eastern countries, and in India and Pakistan.
We should pause here and think about context. Those modern fundamentalist mindsets who say they believe God made humans out of clay and a rib on the fifth day stoutly maintain that they believe the story literally because the Bible is the literal word of God and every word in it must be taken literally, believed literally. Every Biblical verse is literally true history which cannot be questioned. So. If they must believe that literally, and if they’re consistent, then they must also believe literally the virgin wife stories in Deuteronomy. Presumably it’s only modern laws against rape that are holding them back. Are comely virgins safe in literal-mindset fundamentalist congregations?
While Old Testament creation stories give us plenty to think about, they’re not alone. A fairly well known creation myth presents the Hindu point of view. There was a primeval being called Perusa. “The gods” used Perusa’s body to create the solar system and life within it. Perusa’s eye became the sun, Perusa’s brain the moon. Then came life. Perusa’s mouth became priests, who were called Brahmins. Laying the foundation for India’s deeply persistent caste system, Perusa’s arms were used to make warriors, thighs to make merchants and peasants, legs to make servants. Four castes. When new groups from afar later came on the scene they were treated as “out”-castes who, not fitting into the existing four, became known as “Dalits” – i.e., Untouchables.
If there be any doubt about the compelling strength of ancient myths on modern mindsets, look at the de facto influence of the caste system in that modern pseudo-democracy called India despite its passage of laws unequivocally abolishing and prohibiting the discriminatory and demeaning caste system. Jim Crow lives on in unreconstructed parts of the USA, in India’s caste system, and in Islamic countries’ widespread abuse of non-muslims. Would it be any different for a couple of democrats sitting in on a Tea Party convention with sashes reading “liberal” across their chests?
Creation of life: scientific creation hypotheses
Some background understanding of how Long Evolution produces and perpetuates life is necessary to the creation story as told by science. In the last chapter we looked at evolving cosmic self-organization emerging toward ever-greater and upward-trending complexity driven by gravity. Now, without any noticeable discontinuity, we must smoothly flow right on into evolving life self-organization emerging toward ever-greater and upward-trending complexity driven by a process called natural selection. As typically taught in biology classes, the part about natural selection of plants and animals that are best adapted to their constantly changing environments barely scratches the surface. Here it is in a nutshell.
The Natural Selection of Squeak Beak
It is springtime on the island. A crop of new baby birds hatches out as usual. The ever-changing environment in which they live happens to experience an unusual drought in their very first year of life. The rains simply miss the island that spring and summer. By late summer and fall the round little red seeds their species mostly lives on are in short supply. Most of their feather become malnourished, many weaken and die. By sheer chance, one of the baby birds bears a mutation within its DNA which, oddly enough, does not cause it to die, as most mutations do. Instead, it gives the baby bird a slightly narrower, pointier beak. The other birds, with their stout little fat beaks, think the new baby looks odd. Squeak Beak, they call it. But as they slowly starve for lack of their round little red seeds, they observe Squeak Beak getting fatter.
As it happens, a new invasive plant floated in and invaded the island a few years ago, and spread like – well, like unloved plants typically do everywhere. This new plant produces lots of narrow little green seeds, but they’re hard to get at. These seeds are encased in hard woody shells that, when mature, split open along narrow little vertical cracks just barely wide enough to let the narrow little green seeds fall out. They’re slow to fall out, so they are quite fully matured when they finally do so. And they’re very nutritious.
Squeak Beak’s odd little mutated bill is just narrow enough to fit into the narrow cracks. Squeak Beak has a field day – the new diet is delicious. While his peers are dying off, he grows robust and healthy from daily plenty of the green seeds because he has the only beak in town that easily reaches through the narrow cracks to get to the green seeds. With little competition for the surviving girl birds, Squeak Beak has his way with all of them, and gloats. In due course some dozens of new baby birds hatch out on the island. Nearly all have cute little narrow beaks. They all adore the luscious little narrow green seeds which grow everywhere in such plenty, not to mention the fat red seeds which come roaring back when the drought ends and the rains return. These narrow-beaked babes are the new normal. Come next season, their children will adore both red and green seeds too. They have been naturally selected. Things have evolved.
Meanwhile, a shipwreck on the island’s coral reef accidentally releases several old-world rats onto the island – the first rats ever to inhabit it. The rats quickly learn – not to worry – there’s plenty of food around here. Those red seeds aren’t bad, and there’s plenty of those tasty little green seeds which are hard to get out of their hard shell but can be got if you want to bother. Best of all, there’s all these tasty birds with little narrow beaks. If you’d like to read the full context of this portentous story I recommend Jonathan Weiner’s wonderful little book The Beak of the Finch (Vintage Books, 1995).
Squeak Beak’s interesting adventure in natural selection embodies a basic principle of life which may be described thus:
Living creatures become naturally “selected” to survive long enough to reproduce themselves when the physical and mental characteristics with which they came into existence are better able to accommodate (adapt to) changes in their environment than are others of their kind which lack such particular adaptive characteristics. A small nuance of difference in bodily and mental characteristics can give one individual a slight advantage over others of its kind. Even a very slight advantage can make the difference as to whether one survives an environmental change and others do not. No creature has any say about its personal features that convey survival advantage or disadvantage, for these features are handed down, by sheer chance, from the combined DNA of the creature’s parents, whoever they may be and however they chanced to combine. Thus when some sort of change occurs in the environment within which the creature resides, whether or not the creature can adapt to the change and survive is purely luck of the draw. …unless some other factor is perhaps involved…
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…to be continued in one week…
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