Part 1, wherein I muse upon the similarities between Darwinism and creationism, may be found here. In Part 2, I muse some more.
And yet . . . and yet. The longer I lived, the more I recognized that I had a tendency to settle into patterns of thought and behavior and into known, comfortable surroundings and not budge unless some act of God demonstrated to me that I could not survive—psychologically, at least—dramatic changes in conditions unless something gave. What had to give? Me. I needed to take another step outside my comfort zone and adapt to the new stresses on the old habitat. Based on my own desires for peace and quiet, I came to suspect that, barring a radical change in that Everlasting God whose power made and sustained Eden, the first breeding pair of hominids would likely have stayed in their garden stasis forever, all innocence and naked ignorance. Our own continued, expressed wishes for a return to the Peaceable Kingdom confirm how deeply that environment still interests us. So I suspect that had not some serpent of change appeared in paradise and coiled itself around Eve, triggering a sudden shift in direction for mankind and precipitating all that “sweat of the brow” stuff, leading to the production of copious offspring capable of adapting to environments down through the generations, we might still be who we were—whatever that may have been.
Steven Pinker, an evolutionary psychologist, linguist and the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, sees the Old Testament as a “celebration” of the kind of commonplace yet horrifying (to modern sensibilities) violence that characterized mankind’s behavior during early stages of its social evolution. Yet he takes a minute from reciting his litany of relentless and God-given, OT acts of murder, rape, genocide, and torture to make the following remark: “Some biblical scholars believe that the story of the fall from the Garden of Eden was a cultural memory of the transition from foraging to agriculture: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’” (Pinker 57). As an aside, it interests me that while God evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden, he did not demand that they shed their new duds—technically G of E property—and depart in the altogether in which he had created them. Apparently he had the foresight to know that where those two were going they would need their clever invention.
It’s difficult to say whether or not men like Williams who promoted the neo-Darwinist concept of an all-powerful environment wrote that dynamic into the evolutionary tale because the archetypal, omnipotent God-Impotent Man relationship cast a shadow across the pages that Darwin wrote. To be clear, my purpose is not to give a Darwinian reading of the Creation story nor a paradisaical reading to Darwinism. I don’t have a deep comprehension of the Darwinian narrative take on man’s origins. Neither do I have a scholar’s-eye-view into the Garden of Eden over the shoulder of that forbidding seraph. What I’ve written here is just a little story about what happened when I tinkered with a few ideas.
Still, to my eye, both narrative takes share strong rhetorical DNA markers suggesting they are kindred. By Darwinism’s own standards, a species doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, with no inheritance and no relations either close by on another island, on another continent, or in the species’ past. The same with narratives. They have forerunners. They crossbreed. They evolve. And yes, before Darwin, other thinkers and scientists were already working the questions inheritance posed. Darwin was aware of many and influenced by some.
But the belief in Environment Almighty—that seems a strange turn in the scientific tale. Like a species that at first glance seems to share no genetic inheritance with any other species, it couldn’t have just popped up out of nowhere. Somewhere, among all the strata of stories about man’s origins and days upon Earth, is probably buried an assortment of missing links.
Once we begin taking language seriously and develop better methods of analyzing rhetorical kinship markers in narrative strains, we might trace more precisely lines of relation between these two seemingly, mutually exclusive storylines similar to how we can follow human inheritance with genetic testing, often with surprising results. Is the Garden of Eden tale in some way one of Darwinism’s narrative forebears? Did a Creationist point of view slip in through the back door and dally with a Darwinian Lucy? Maybe, maybe not, but both storylines demonstrate dominant characteristics suggesting that these two narrative creatures may very well be more closely related than either side cares to acknowledge, purity of a ancestral strain being, of course, a vital component of privilege in some folks’ identities, genealogical and narrative. Another possible explanation for any similarities they show: maybe they share a common archetypal ancestor—a cultural memory.
I like the evolutionary tale. It shows promise. But the OT Creation story holds a special place in my soul. In the heart of my thinking, in a metaphorical amygdala wrapped in layers and layers of my storied mind, are vestiges of the Garden of Eden tale. Back when I began to awaken to the possibilities in the world but still breathed the water of literal belief, sifting out sustaining elements that made it possible for me to move toward the water’s edge, that story was there for me. Three decades have passed since I oriented myself by its bearing, but, when it comes down to it, I admit happily that the strange creature that I’ve become grew from that that luscious, beguiling, colorful, and perhaps, in some ways, still developing story of mankind’s departure from a dependent relationship with a forbidding, omnipotent environment. So while I left Eden behind, I recognize it as a forerunner of the language I live and breathe today. I feel neither ashamed nor regretful about the prominent role it played in my life. In fact, given an opportunity, like this one, I celebrate it. What a shame it would be if the rhetorical environment were to become so overheated, so inhospitable to narrative diversity as to force such a telling tale into extinction.
Bickerton, Derek. Adam’s Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans. New York: Hill and Wang. 2010. Print.
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York: Penguin. 2012. Print.