Part 2: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…

10.31.13 | | 5 comments
William_Blake,_The_Temptation_and_Fall_of_Eve

William Blake’s The Temptation and Fall of Eve

 

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.

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Works Cited

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.

5 comments: “Part 2: You Say You Want a Creavolution? Well, You Know…

  1. Tyler

    I’m curious, Patricia, because it’s not completely clear to me from your explorations here (unless I’ve missed something): When you say you’ve left Eden behind, what do you mean by that? Do you mean that you’ve moved on from belief in the Eden narrative as the definitive creation myth or that like Adam and Eve you’ve left the relative safety provided by the Garden’s rhetorical innocence and ignorance and discovered the rhetorical promise of the lone and dreary world’s stories? Or something else entirely?

    On another note: your efforts to explore the narrative relationship between creationism and evolution reminded me of Steve Peck’s (er, rather, Gilda Trillim’s) lyric union of the plan of salvation and evolution narratives. Have you read Steve/Gilda’s poem? Here’s a link to it, anyway: http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/05/30/my-turn-on-earth/

  2. Patricia K

    Thank you for reading, Tyler. First, by “leaving Eden”, I mean to references a gestalt of choices, many of which you’ve touched on, minus the “lone and dreary world’s stories”. I have not found the world’s stories lone and dreary–not any. I say that with some authority because I’ve had plenty of opportunity to discover lone and dreary elements, were they to be found. And “safety”? I don’t believe in it any more. “Adaptation” works better for me. One way or another that environment is going to change–including, if you’re engaged with living–as a result of your own doings. In my experience, adventure abounds; safety is never guaranteed.

    May I direct your attention to these words? “[T]hat still developing story of mankind’s departure from a dependent relationship with a forbidding, omnipotent environment.” This is an important element of leaving Eden, to my thinking. It’s a driving process (I hope) for humankind. As always, I believe language, itself a strong catalyst for evolution, is part of this process.

    And I am sorry to say that, no, I haven’t read Steve’s poem. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’ve read very little of anything for some years now. Probably, I have no business putting up blog posts if I haven’t reviewed the current bliterature. However, I thought I’d take the risk.

    Here’s a question for you: Is trying to demonstrate relationship between narratives the same thing as blending them?

  3. Th.

    .

    I’m starting to think we’re on the cusp of a new understanding of eternal progression and that works such as yours, Patricia, are part of the figuring-things-out process.

  4. Patricia K

    I don’t often hear the phrase “eternal progression” much anymore, Th. Thanks for bringing it up here.

    I have been wondering if the evolutionary concept of niche construction, where organisms alter their environment, and that altering, in turn, affects natural selection in the organisms, is (figuratively) the NT of evolutionary theory. Such feedback loops lead to changes in both species and environment, sometimes good changes, sometimes bad changes. Bickerton speaks of niche construction as a theory that “gives animals themselves a vital role to play in their own evolution” (93). He gives as an example his insight into the evolution of beavers: “In making an environment for themselves, they made one for others, too. But that’s not all they made. They made themselves.” In Bickerton’s view, the old model of Environment Almighty is not adequate to describe the relationships some creatures have developed with their environments. He notes that neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins calls niche construction theory “pernicious”, but then Dawkins’ name-calling skills are excessive generally.

    Like beavers and earthworms, humans are heavily involved in niche construction behaviors. Beavers and earthworms, however, do not have an end game goal, as far as truth and the final destination of their species are concerned. Beavers and earthworms don’t seem to have, for instance, a concept of godhood, though, judging from the dams I’ve seen in my favorite canyon, they do have an instinct for damhood–a sense of perfection where their engineering skills are concerned. Given the precision with which they alter rivers and streams, “damnation” seems a positive thing, for them. The changes beavers make in an environment and the changes that an altered environment exerts upon beavers seems not so much a building toward anything in particular as it does a building from. During the course of their evolution, beavers probably did not aspire to evolve flat tails, oil glands, and incisors that grow continually so that they will not be worn down to nubs by gnawing wood. These are adaptations they developed in a kind of partnership with their also adapting environment.

    I don’t know if we can adapt elements of niche construction theory to re-imagine concepts like eternal progression, or not. However, I do sense that we’re on a cusp, if by “cusp” you mean “frontier”. I have also begun to wonder if there is only frontier.

  5. Tyler

    minus the “lone and dreary world’s stories”. I have not found the world’s stories lone and dreary–not any.

    Touché. I appreciate the way you turned that phrase back on me, Patricia. Might I add that the world’s many, many stories are, for me, what make it not so lone and dreary (as it’s been described)? I think Adam and Eve may have discovered the same thing once they crawled from the Garden’s waters and began exploring their terrestrial home.

    (Speaking of lone and dreary world stories: here’s “The Lone and Dreary World” by Jack Harrell.)

    And “safety”? I don’t believe in it any more. “Adaptation” works better for me. One way or another that environment is going to change–including, if you’re engaged with living–as a result of your own doings. In my experience, adventure abounds; safety is never guaranteed.

    I’m with you: mortality’s about risk and change and adaptation (both willing and compelled). Hence my statement about leaving “the relative safety provided by the Garden’s rhetorical innocence and ignorance”—I say “relative” simply because any sense of safety to be had there is ultimately a matter of ignorance: ignoring risk, ignoring temptation, ignoring desire, ignoring reason. Once knowledge dawns, though, the sense of safety dispels and the endless horizon beyond Eden beckons.

    Hence: we (hopefully) keep moving and keep progressing along and adapting to and with the frontier called eternity.

    Niche construction, as you suggest, seems important as we move through and with the eternal expanse, influencing and being influenced by our relationships with this fertile environment and with our fellow travelers, including the gods. This is one thing I believe Mormonism teaches us about Deity: that s/he not only seeks via language to influence and persuade her/his peers to do/be good, but that s/he is also deeply influenced by her/his creations—kids (who are really peers) included—to the point of weeping for and with them in deep empathy and desire.

    Just a still developing thought that sprang from the spring of your words.

    Here’s a question for you: Is trying to demonstrate relationship between narratives the same thing as blending them?

    Good question. Your term—blending stories—says what I was trying to say when I mentioned “your efforts to explore the narrative relationship between creationism and evolution.” I do think, though, that story blending is one way of exploring (and maybe even of exploiting) the relationships among stories, especially the relationships some people may fail to notice (like the one between creationism and evolution). Blending the narratives confronts readers, in part, with the stories’ similarities and challenges them to rethink what connections may or may not exist.

    Maybe this answers your question. Maybe it doesn’t…

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