Evolving Thoughts

So in chapter 2, we shift stories. Now we have a story that is far older than the first chapter, and is regarded by scholars as the “Yahwist” creation story, and it focuses primarily on humans. The story is far more familiar than the first chapter is (the first few sentences notwithstanding), so we can be pretty brief.

Here, the deity is referred to as “YHWH Elohim”, and is translated in English as “LORD God”. YHWH is the ancient name for a Phoenician deity of the inhabitants of Canaan. We don’t know exactly how it was pronounced, but problably it is said as “Yahweh”. In the Canaanite religion, YHWH was a son of El, the Father of the Gods, and served as his cupbearer. His mother was Asherah, which is a term that remains in the Bible as “Asherah poles”, a devotional object.

Later on, the Hebrews took El, Adonai (a spring fertility god) and YHWH to be the same. In the Northern kingdom, it appears that Asherah was the consort of YHWH too. But that is only echoed in our present text, and it is clearly not what the Redactor thought was right and true.

So at first there was no rain, only water rising from the subterranean springs under the earth. The God forms the man from dust. This is not a spontaneous generation account, unlike the P text. Here, God is the craftsman, the potter. He adds breath (ruach) and the sculpture becomes a living being.

He then puts the man in a garden “in the east”, located very precisely in the Mesopotamian valley. However, it is not any place that now exists because there is no headwaters of four rivers in that region. One land, Havilah, is clearly a significant trading region when the text was written.

“The man” here is adam, which means “man”, and which sounds like adamah, for “dust”. Such puns were not a matter of low humour, but reflect the belief that the sound of words is significant and has deeper meaning than mere resemblance. It is a view that we find later in the modern (or relatively modern) Kabbalah. Words have power, and tell you about the nature of things. This is a view that we never really shook, despite the motto of the Royal Society, nullius in verba ([seek] nothing in words). The idea that knowledge lies in words not in evidence and science is at the heart of this text, as it is of pretty well all ancient texts until the Greek Enlightenment, and even then Aristotle appeared to think that true knowledge could be found in proper definitions of ordinary words, a process I call science by definition. Modern creationists think that the words of our text hold special knowledge, and take priority over experience and evidence.

So the adam is placed in the garden (a folk memory of foraging society in forests, perhaps? The region was heavily wooded until goats and logging made the modern landscape in what was then the “fertile” crescent). He’s alone, so YHWH Elohim brings all the previously made beasts and birds before the adam who names them – again with the power of words. By naming these animals, the adam has power over them. None of them are able to keep the adam company and serve as his helper, so YHWH Elohim removes part of the adam‘s ribs in a kind of early surgery (aside: I wonder if this was based on some folk medicine surgery – actual surgeries had been done for thousands of years, and surely some soporifics had been done. If so, this would make YHWH a divine surgeon). As nothing comes from nothing, YHWH has to use the prior material this way to form the first woman.

[This comment, which is rather illuminating, can be found on Wheat-dogg's blog:

"The Hebrew name for Asherah was Ela, and later Hawah, which became Eve in English. In Genesis Eve was lured by the serpent to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and to convince Adam to do the same. El/YHWH was not pleased, and kicked them out of Paradise. Some scholars point to Eve?s subordinate place under Adam (and disobedience to YHWH) as a parallel to the early YHWHists? efforts to suppress worship of the goddess Asherah."]

The story of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a curious one. We’ll come back to it later. For now note that there appears to be no moral knowledge in either the woman or man. The story of the creation of the woman is used here as a justification of the power relations between men and women in marriage, but that is a social thing that applies in the RealWorld and need not detain us here.

What do we learn from this part of the J narrative? That humans began, it appears, with two individuals. This has enormous implications for genetics. It means either that all inherited variations occurred later, or it means that genetics is impossible. As we will see later on, this latter view is supported by comments made about inheritance of variation in the story of Joseph Jacob and his sheep, but we’ll get to that.

The origin of humanity is the literal “center of creation” (a term used in the early nineteenth century a lot). It is in the near east, not Africa. In fact it is where we now locate the origins of civilisation, and in particular, writing. This will be important when I finish up with my idiosyncratic opinion (hint, hint!).

Comments

  1. #1 Simon Packer
    June 3, 2007

    Scientists tend to be extreme (attempted) rationalists. Prone to be over-literal in day to day life, prone to want to anchor everything into something they feel they can grasp rigorously, analytically, cerebrally. They dislike admitting to any possible limitations to the methods they feel are their strong points.
    Yes, it is hard to stitch Genesis together with a scientific (or even historical) rigour. Even on the creationist side, it is the scientists who try hardest to do this. So we creationists struggle a bit if we try to present a rigorous view of how and when God did things.
    God is eternal. We are in a temporary, temporal existence. God has rolled out our existing framework of existence and will roll it up again. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. He has allowed us, indeed created us with the faculty, to gain some conceptual grasp on the fabric of our (current) existence. Steady state theories on origins necessarily assume there is no higher, altogether transcendent being involved. Matter, time, space, human abstractions are all there is and all there can be. This is manifestly an artificial constraint on the search for truth, very common among scientists. You are saying, I will look for absolute truths, but I will only allow myself to find it in one way, starting from what I am already familiar with. Transcendent need not mean irrational, rather simply possesing a rationality which is of an altogether higher order than ours. Ours is simply a contextual simplification of absolute rationality.
    God used the culture and paradigms of man for man’s sake. How else could he understand? As for theories about text sources, these have been postulated and dismissed before. look at the understanding of Isaiah for an example.
    Good book by Geoffrey Simmons, Billions of Missing Links, by the way. Behe likes it. Me too.

  2. #2 ji
    June 3, 2007

    Scientists tend to be extreme (attempted) rationalists. Prone to be over-literal in day to day life, prone to want to anchor everything into something they feel they can grasp rigorously, analytically, cerebrally. They dislike admitting to any possible limitations to the methods they feel are their strong points.

    Stupid scientist’s! How dare they use things like rational thought, experimentation, and evidence. Are you really arguing that science should suspend these methods, just to please people who don’t like the conclusions? That’s what this is all about, right? You don’t like evolution because it concludes that life arose naturally, without the help of a supernatural being. At least that is what I’m assuming, I don’t see any other reason why you would just ignore the mountains of evidence for evolution.

  3. #3 Simon Packer
    June 3, 2007

    I have not seen mountains of evidence for evolution, certainly not as the word is commonly used to describe how we got here from a simple molecular starting point. Unrepresentative scenarios of microorganism mutation, yes, handwaving vague statements about the fossil record yes. Mountains of presumptuous, often facile and ridiculous waffle from people who really ought to know better, yes. Good evidence, definitely not. I have a BSc in Applied Physics. There is nothing wrong with the scientific method applied realistically, rigorously and with a good eye on the possible uncertainties in your assumptions. I have worked as a design engineer in telecomms and aerospace. There is science (deterministic, producing predictable results, often to accuracis of 1 in 10^6 or better) and there is retrospective story-telling and hype, with the prediction and proof of prediction stages left out altogether. Remeber science: observe; hypothesise; predict; check prediction. The reason that a junk theory like evolution can gain credibility is partly because it hides behind it’s own alleged slow timescales and ducks out on the prediction stages.

  4. #4 Thony C.
    June 3, 2007

    Simon, despite your claims to scientific qualifications and the pseudo sophisticated language with which you clothe the empty babbling that constitutes your postings your attitude reminds me of a small, frightened, insecure child who thinks that he can make the things that he doesn’t like disappear if he just closes his eyes hard enough. I have bad news for you, the facts of evolution or those of the philological investigations of the text that you call the Bible will still be true and still be there should you ever possess the courage to open your eyes and confront the real world instead of the warped fairy tale in which you so obviously live at the moment.

  5. #5 ji
    June 3, 2007

    Okay maybe you haven’t seen the evidence for evolution. Do you have evidence for creationism that isn’t just “handwaving vague statements”? It’s seems all the creationist have is there “gaps” in evolution, which doesn’t prove that creationism is true? There must be a test we can use to verify creation, right? What is it? How do we apply the scientific method to evaluate it’s claims and predictions?

  6. #6 Ahcuah
    June 3, 2007

    Regarding YHWH Elohim, isn’t Elohim just the plural of El? (Plural of cherub is cherubim, etc.). And aren’t there places where “the gods” is the translation? (We’re right on the edge of my knowledge, so be gentle . . .)

    Another piece of speculation I’ve seen is that the “rib” of Adam wasn’t really a rib (since of course there are none missing–men and women have the same number) but was the os penis. My understanding that this is a possible translation of the Hebrew word. Most other mammals have one, but not humans (and a few others). This might be part of a folk tale as to why humans don’t have one–it was used to make Eve. The sexual connection also seems similar to other creation myths.

  7. #7 Badger3k
    June 3, 2007

    In “History begins at Sumer” (Samuel Noah Kramer) he relates a Sumerian story of the goddess Nunhursag healing an ailing Enki by giving “birth” to eight deities. She heals his rib by creating the goddess Ninti (translated as both ‘lady who makes live’ and ‘lady of the rib’). Not sure if it can be related, but this idea of a woman/goddess being formed from a rib may have been passed down and contributed to this “out of the rib” idea the Isrealites eventually wrote down in Genesis 2. Pretty sketchy connection, and I just contribute it for information. The rest of the story is not similar (except for the idea of a paradise, from what I read), so I don’t think there is a direct connection. I suspect that Egyptian or pre-Isrealite Canaanite mythology would provide a more fertile source of the myths origins.

  8. #8 Alan Kellogg
    June 3, 2007

    #6,

    So God’s creation of Woman was a boner?

  9. #9 John Wilkins
    June 3, 2007

    In my view the “os penis” claim is tongue in cheek. … Eww that just generated some mental imagery. Ignore that.

    You simply cannot make a claim that this story is designed to explain the lack of a baculum in humans, because that requires a pretty good comparative anatomy, which the Hebrews clearly didn’t have beyond the necessities of cattle slaughter and butchery. It has to be a joke, or else it’s dreadfully misled.

    On “elohim” – as I said in the first of this series, I’m no Hebraist. The interlinear translation I’ve been using translates it literally as “the powers”. It could mean many gods, or it could mean one God with lots of powers. I think it’s a holdover from henotheism, something I’ll discuss in the concluding post.

  10. #10 @bc
    June 3, 2007

    Thank you so much for this very informative article.

  11. #11 @bc
    June 3, 2007

    I think evolution has a pretty strong theoretical background. It’s very simple, theoretically, natural selection and mutations should bring rise to new species, population-wise.

    I share thoughts with Ji: Do you have evidence for creationism that isn’t just “handwaving vague statements”?

    How could you like at the similarities between different species among the primapes, both psychological and anatomical, and not think there they could have derived from a common ancestor?

    There is no reason you should think that God has a purpose for any animal. Certains species of Rhino are going extinct. There are only 4 in captivity and very few in the wild. What purpose did God have for that particular species? You don’t know. You just don’t know, but you still want to believe in God.

  12. #12 windy
    June 4, 2007

    You simply cannot make a claim that this story is designed to explain the lack of a baculum in humans, because that requires a pretty good comparative anatomy, which the Hebrews clearly didn’t have beyond the necessities of cattle slaughter and butchery. It has to be a joke, or else it’s dreadfully misled.

    Hey, it has been published in American Journal of Medical Genetics! :)

    Congenital human baculum deficiency: The generative bone of Genesis 2:21-23

  13. #13 John Wilkins
    June 4, 2007

    Yeah, I read that when it came out. I still think it’s tongue in cheek…

  14. #14 Ahcuah
    June 4, 2007

    Now I’m really curious: how much comparative anatomy do you need to notice that your bulls have a baculum, but you don’t? There seems to be this tendency to think that ancient peoples were stupid but I just don’t see that.

    Sure, they are ignorant about many things because they did not yet have the tools to investigate them. So, if some ancient myth depended on an understanding of quantum mechanics, I would really doubt it. But in this case it relies on the ability of the local humans to cut up animals–something they did every day, and possibly cut up humans–which occurred in war.

    So I guess I just don’t see why you think it improbable that they would know about this particular difference in anatomy.

  15. #15 windy
    June 4, 2007

    Now I’m really curious: how much comparative anatomy do you need to notice that your bulls have a baculum, but you don’t?

    The problem is that bulls don’t have a baculum! (that’s what the internets say, at least; I haven’t checked personally.)

    But I don’t think real “comparative anatomy” is needed, either. A tradition of hunting seems to have been sufficient to create an interest in penis bones in some cultures. The trick would be to get curious about the presence of a baculum in humans. I wouldn’t assume many ancient peoples made the connection – but as you point out, those ancient Hebrews did practice some comparative penile anatomy during war, although more of the external variety…

  16. #16 Eamon Knight
    June 4, 2007

    I have worked as a design engineer in telecomms and aerospace.
    I suppose you have no idea how badly you’ve just put your foot in it, do you?

  17. #17 Thony C.
    June 4, 2007

    Ahcuah wrote:

    Regarding YHWH Elohim, isn’t Elohim just the plural of El? (Plural of cherub is cherubim, etc.). And aren’t there places where “the gods” is the translation? (We’re right on the edge of my knowledge, so be gentle . . .)

    El and Elohim both come from the same etyomological root a word meaning “power”. Elohim is the plural form of Eloah, which is translated as “the gods” when referring to heathen gods (my cynical emphasis) and is considered a “royal we” when referring to YHWH. This was by the way beyond my knowledge but I looked it up ;)

  18. #18 Simon Packer
    June 5, 2007

    ji
    I agree that neither evolutionary theory nor ID/creationism do well when it comes to the predictive parts of the scientific method.
    Many people tend to see ‘science’ as a continuum of equal veracity. This is not the case at all. In addition, there is a difference between the scientific method (and we must agree on our definition here) and the prevailing beliefs of the scientific community.
    I would say that the scientific method, applied rigorously, gives it’s most meaningful results when specific, and particularly numerical, predictions can be made. Most engineering principles fit into this category, otherwise they are not useful. Here big picture ToE and ID both fall down as singular conclusions of the scientific method. Big picture evolution and ID/creationism are both inferences from historical data. There is little or no truly new information to offer predictive verification. I am not talking about mutation of viruses here. This proves little in the evolutionary sense.

  19. #19 Tophe
    June 6, 2007

    I agree that neither evolutionary theory nor ID/creationism do well when it comes to the predictive parts of the scientific method.
    ToE does have predictive power.
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA210.html

  20. #20 blf
    June 6, 2007

    I have worked as a design engineer in telecomms and aerospace.
    I suppose you have no idea how badly you’ve just put your foot in it, do you?

    As an engineer myself, I may be hypersensitive to this mythology of “many engineers are cretinists” and hence reading more into what was said then was meant…

    But godsdamnit, working in an engineering profession does not automagically mean one is a cretinist, no more than the example of a certain IDiotic brainsurgeon-cretinist means all (brain-)surgeons are cretinists, and so on. Yes, both engineering and surgery have fools, and I can be foolish myself at times (who isn’t?), but this sort of thing is just way too overgeneralised.

    Or I’m being rather too hypersensitive…?

  21. #21 Calum MacLeod
    June 6, 2007

    “Joseph and his sheep”

    Jacob, surely?

  22. #22 John Wilkins
    June 6, 2007

    D’oh!

  23. #23 Eamon Knight
    June 7, 2007

    blf writes:
    As an engineer myself, I may be hypersensitive to this mythology of “many engineers are cretinists” and hence reading more into what was said then was meant…

    Relax, I’m also an engineer, and I’m tired of bozos giving the profession a bad name. I was just pointing out that Simon’s schtick is so stereotypical: “I know Evilution is wrong ‘cuz I’m an engineer, so I know what REAL science looks like!”, and everyone is supposed to be all impressed. Happens all the time on talk.origins — and the newbie creationist wonders why everyone either laughs, sighs, or just yawns.

  24. #24 Simon Packer
    June 9, 2007

    ek bif etc
    A good engineer is a good engineer because they use the practical outcomes of the scientific method (engineering theories) to achieve a deterministic result, in a creative and/or precise way. I would’ve thought this was beyond much disputing. There are engineers of proven competence who hold creationist views. This is also beyond dispute.
    So why is this? Surely because there is a qualitative difference between the type of science involved. You can stereotype me as well as I can you, but I’m still looking for a persuasive counter-argument.
    The Talkorigins stuff on the link above gives very little to support the predictive case for ToE, frankly, even by their own admission. Is the purported evidence for ToE difinitive, or is it a hypothesis carefully presented to insinuate certainty? There are some good propagandists out there. Talkorigins is written with a clever style which usually asserts that of course evolutionists spotted all the objections ages ago and have always understood them and the answers are well established. But read the stuff carefully and it is generally quite weak.

  25. #25 Thony C.
    June 9, 2007

    Simon wrote:

    You can stereotype me as well as I can you, but I’m still looking for a persuasive counter-argument.

    You have not yet made anything vaguely resembling an argument so there has been no need to produce a counter-argument, as there is nothing to be countered.

  26. #26 wheatdogg
    June 10, 2007

    John W —

    Thanks for the link to my own post on Genesis. My host’s server was hacked a couple of days ago, so some of your visitors might have been taken to a dead link. We have since fixed the problem, so the link as published here is OK.

    –John W.
    aka Wheat-dogg

  27. #27 Don Smith, FCD
    June 10, 2007

    Simon,

    Just one of the predictions from ToE made every year is what the next year’s infuenza will look like. This prediction is used to produce the proper vaccination ahead of time.

    A big prediction of the ToE was that the phylogenetic tree originaly produced by comparative anatomy would match well with the tree produced via genetic sequencing. This one has come through with flying colors.

    So what’s your problem with the ToE? Don’t you like the implication that one of your ancestors was a monkey? It’s worse than that. Some of your (and all of our) ancestors were bacteria. Probably left a slimy film on things….

  28. #28 Simon Packer
    June 12, 2007

    Hi Don
    Thanks for the reply. I have no problem with the ToE in the sense of the mechanism of mutation/reproduction/natural selection to select out the most survivable outcome(s) in a particular scenario. I do not know exactly what is involved with the influenza prediction you mention. It is obviously a mutation within a particular virus family or type. Last year I was working with an HIV charity and I saw the results of an analysis of what mutations were present in a particular individual, in order to taylor the antiretrovirals. Currently in South Africa this is only happening for the wealthy of course. Here we are dealing with known mutations of the HIV virus, which are then selected by the (impaired) immune system and the previously administered arvs. No rational person would deny the mechanism of ‘evolution’ was at work here.
    Your second statement about the phylogenetic tree derived from anatomy relating well to the tree obtained from genetic sequencing is interesting. I have heard contrary opinions and even major uncertainty on the nature of the phylogenetic tree. I assume you can quote me a reference. Assuming you are correct and the correlation is good, you have some evidence which is supportive of ToE without stipulating it. How supportive I could not really say at the moment. If the known characteristics of recombination/mutation parallel a credible phylogenetic tree aligning with a credible interpretation of the fossil record, ToE is strongly, though not definitively, implied. This would imply a progressive manifestation of lifeforms in a manner which could still have an underlying ID interpretation attached to it. If there is no prior intelligence involved, surely the problems M Behe and G Simmonds set out are pretty much insurmountable by ToE alone to explain life as we see it.

  29. #29 Scotty B
    June 13, 2007

    “We don’t know exactly how it was pronounced, but problably it is said as ‘Yahweh’.”

    …yes, problably.

    :p

  30. #30 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 17, 2007

    He then puts the man in a garden “in the east”, located very precisely in the Mesopotamian valley. However, it is not any place that now exists because there is no headwaters of four rivers in that region. One land, Havilah, is clearly a significant trading region when the text was written.

    In his Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov pointed out that the text could refer to a place where four rivers came together. Two of the four rivers are clearly identified as the Hiddekel (Tigris) and the Euphrates, which come together in the waterway known as the Shatt-al-Arab. In the earliest days of the Sumerian cities, the Tigris and Euphrates entered the Persian Gulf through separate mouths, but the silt they carried built up new land, and in consequence the river mouths shifted and eventually merged.

    The Pison “compasseth the whole land of Havilah,” which in Genesis 25:18 is located south of the Euphrates. The fourth river, the Gihon, is (in the KJV) said to compass “the whole land of Ethiopia,” but Ethiopia is far off in Africa, south of Egypt, and the Hebrew word cush more typically refers to the Kassites, who dwelt east of the Tigris.

    The Gihon may have been a natural tributary of the Tigris, since vanished in the general dessication of the region, and likewise for the Pison.

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