I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR as I drove to work onSaturday and was fortunate enough to hear a wonderful interview with Chris Smither, a folk/blues singer from this neck of the woods. He has a new album out and he sang a couple of songs. My favorite was “Origin of Species,” which begins:
well eve told adam, “snakes – I’ve had ‘em”
let’s get out of here
go raise this family somewhere out of town
they left the garden just in time
with the landlord cussing right behind
and they headed east and they finally settled down
one thing led to another
one son killed his brother
and they kicked him out with nothing but his clothes
but the human race survived
because those brothers they found wives
though where they found them ain’t nobody knows
The song was still floating around in my head when I read the news about the Dikika baby, a 3.3 million-year-old infant skeleton discovered in Africa by an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist called Zeresenay Alemseged (that’s almost as much fun to say as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). He said the skeleton was a key piece in the human “biography,” pointing to a time of transition in our development as a species when our childhood became longer so our brains could grow larger and we could develop further. The article closes with this paragraph:
The Dikika baby’s biography is short, but the evolutionary steps she embodied have had profound and enduring effects. Although bipedalism and big brains carried a high cost, particularly for the mothers of our lineage, these traits ultimately combined to produce smarter babies who would eventually be able to master technologies, build civilizations, and, yes, explore their own origins.
I wonder if I ought to send Zeresenay Alemseged a copy of Smither’s record. Here’s his closing verse:
well charlie darwin looked so far into the way things are
he caught a glimpse of God’s unfolding plan
God said, “I’ll make some DNA and they’ll use it any way
they want from paramecium right up to man
they’ll have sex and mix up sections of their code
they’ll have mutations
the whole thing works like clockwork over time
I’ll just sit back in the shade while everyone gets laid
that’s what I call intelligent design
yeah, you and your cat named felix
are both wrapped up in that double helix
that’s what we call intelligent design
Of course, I’m sure the hardcore Creationists – er, Intelligent Design guys will weigh in soon. I wish I understood why they feel these kinds of discoveries threaten the wonderful story that begins the book of Genesis. True, many of the scientists who study the development of the human race are not Christians, but that doesn’t mean they are out to disprove or threaten the Bible because they are trying to make sense of what they’ve found in the dirt of the very planet God spoke into existence. Why do some Christians get defensive so easily when we can’t explain something with a Bible verse?
I have always been somewhat amused that we call the part of Christian theology that has to do with defending or proving Christianity “apologetics,” as if we are somehow saying we are sorry for our arguments. When I was in seminary, Josh McDowell was doing big business with his Evidence That Demands a Verdict. (When I “googled” him tonight I found out he’s still going strong.) I struggled with his approach because I never felt like God was on trial. Yes, I know many Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith, but that’s not what I’m talking about and that wasn’t his point back then, either. The courtroom metaphor quickly tires me because I don’t think we’re going to debate anyone into faith.
In my bookmarks I have a link to the UDF Skywalker, which shows pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. The picture on there now shows ten thousand galaxies and captures light we are just now seeing that goes back to when the universe was 800 million years old, which is, according to the site, one seventeenth of its current age. 17 x 800,000,000 = 13,600,000,000 years. And we’re trying to come to terms with a three million year old skeleton.
Our brains need to keep growing.
The Psalmist said to God, “When I gaze into the night sky and see what kind of imagination you have, I wonder why we ever cross your mind” (my translation). His intent was not scientific observation or theological explanation. It was a statement of faith by one who was “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” To make this a battle between science and faith is to create unnecessary adversaries. Read the Psalmist again and then take in this quote from Stephen Crane (sorry, I can’t find the context):
A man said to the universe: “Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe, “The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.”
In some ways, the conversations don’t appear to be so different, but the Psalmist’s question begs for a response and carries hope of relationship: the Creator of the Stars does notice him standing in the dark. Crane’s character cries for affirmation only to be humbled without much hope.
Let’s speak up about that. Let’s quit fighting straw Neanderthals and debating in Theological Moot Court and speak, to borrow Paul Simon’s words, “of things that matter and words that must be said.” We were dreamed up and breathed into existence by a God who made us to do something more creative than argue about bones and biology when we live in a world crying out for hope.
“We were dreamed up and breathed into existence by a God who made us to do something more creative than argue about bones and biology when we live in a world crying out for hope.”
This is why I read your work and talk about it with others. You hit the nail on the head time after time.
what gander said.
Excellent post, Milton. The Stephen Crane (I think it’s him–I’ll check my lit anthology when I get back to campus tomorrow) is a simple poem.
I teach in Georgia where many of my students are fundamentalist Christians. They seem to want to argue me into believing as they do (I’m Episcopalian); you are so right to point that nobody’s going to be “argued into faith.” Why, indeed, do folks get so threatened when a Bible verse can’t explain something? I’m still trying to figure that one out, too.
Wonderful job. Keep up the good work.
It is Crane. I’d love to know the reference. I loved looking at your site as well. As one who spent a decade teaching high school English, I find resonance with what you are doing.