Friday, 18 April 2008

Evolution and the Bible: Revisted

I've noticed my blog is pushing at the envelope of atheistic disbelief and scientific reasoning, through the use of semi-scientific evidence and a little bit of unusual and occasionally original thought. I decided to pursue this position one more time with this post...

We all know the usual creationist/ID position, and I'm sure many have dismissed them [myself included] as forcing a modern, secular understanding of the world around us onto an ancient, religious document, with below-average success. However, I would like to explore the idea that the ancients did in fact know a thing or two about evolution, simply through observing the world around them. Using rabbinic and biblical sources, I'll show you what may be actual references to evolution in the bible.

Snakes had legs
According to New Scientist and various other thoroughly scientific sources, snakes used to have legs, many years ago. As evolution goes, they eventually mutated into having no legs, which is why we see snakes as they are today.

The midrashim on Bereishis say that the snake in the Adam and Eve story had legs and could walk. This is allegedly how Eve was pushed onto the tree which caused the pair to sin.

Human Evolution
The famous midrash is that before the flood, people used to have webbed hands and this a truism and left over from evolution? Or is this something made up? If the latter, the question that demands to be asked is, why would the rabbis make up the webbed hands and feet - what would they gain by it? Weave a more intricate web? Assure people that those before the flood are fundamentally different to those after it? Perhaps. Or perhaps at one point, "people" really did have webbed hands and feet. It would fit the evolutionary scale of things.

To conjecture further, perhaps people without webbed hands and feet lived alongside those with it, and a big flood wiped out the people with webbed hands and feet...? Either way, could this be another point at which the bible confirms evolution?

Genetic Inheritance
It is said that Abraham worried that people would think Isaac was not his son, so God made Isaac look like Abraham. I don't believe the biological fact of genes was spontaneously made by God at this point, but this aside, is this another reference from ancient times to what took humanity ages (literally) to discover? Perhaps.

OK, not strictly evolution. But is the concept of giants just fertile imagination? Perhaps people were shorter, so it was more odd to have people over 6 feet in ancient times. But to describe them as giants? We know Saul was considered very tall, but no-one described him as a giant. However, let's be vaguely scientific about this all...

1 Samuel 17:4 says Goliath, one such giant, "was over 9' tall." Now let us take a look at the tallest living people in medical history and then including the deceased. In both links, if we scroll down the page a little and ignore the pornographic pictures on the right (enjoy), we see that people up to 8 feet tall existed. It's not such a stretch to 9ft then, is it? And when we factor in that the writer of Samuel may have been incorrect in the height (let's face it, he was seen during a battle and no one would have measured him, would they) we see that the biblical "giants" may very well have existed as normal people who were way taller than everyone else.

Another explanation, perhaps describing Goliath's position...Could it be that very tall beings were observed by biblical characters as having a problem with their Pituitary gland? Perhaps. Either way, I think it likely that our modern understanding of "giant" is larger than the ancient idea of a mighty giant who stood just 9ft tall.

Giant Fish
Could the stories of giant fish be similar to the stories of giant people? Add a bit of imagination, a small village campfire and some good ol' fashioned embellishment and I think that is likely. Further, typing "giant fish" into Google reveals many pictures of giant tuna, crayfish and all manner of massive and scary looking sea creatures. One website called Fishosaur is dedicated to finding pictures of large fish, take a look.

Massive life spans
Adam lived for 930 years, but was supposed to live forever until he sinned. People after him lived pretty long too, Abraham and Sarah - 20 generations away from Adam - lived to 120 years and beyond.

This is more of an interesting conjecture than a possibility to be scientific fact, but if you've read this far, hear me out.

I was talking with someone after the second night seder, and we eventually started to talk about scientists who are isolating the aging gene(s). After discussing how it wouldn't do to allow everyone to live forever, and who would be able to eradicate such genes (the wealthy, the powerful and the gifted), I postulated that a good use of such technology would be to discover/colonise distant planets. Given how our technology is insufficient to transport humans to other planets within their lifetimes, making beings live forever would help solve the problem. They could then decide to commit euthanasia whenever they felt the colony was getting off to a good start. I postulated Adam was one such being. The argument goes like this...

The universe is expanding all the time, so the closer to the centre of the universe you are, the older everything is. It is therefore logical to postulate that another civilisation arose closer to the centre of the universe than we are. Being older than us, the beings there mastered the technologies we are stumbling upon only now, thousands of years ago. This older civilisation isolated the ageing gene and sent an explorer(s) to a distant planet we now call Earth. Adam founded civilisation here and hey presto! Here we are today.

As you can probably tell, I'm awaiting my copy of chariots of the gods....


a fan said...

I didn't have patience to read your post - it seemed too long. I don't know you, but from your posts it sounds like you are lacking something. You have a sharp mind, and it is a shame that you don't put it to good use. I think a good reading for you would be Michtav MeEliyahu's essay "There's no Such thing as an Atheist." You have a beautiful neshama - that is what is pulling you away from the pork and shrimp, and please use your judgment to pull away from this girlfriend situation before it is too late.

Jewish Sceptic said...

A fan,

Thank you for your kind comment.

Two slight corrections, however: as far as I know from my studies, teshuva is usually always an option, unless someone is particularly evil. So it will never be "too late."

And as far as the pork and shrimp goes, I have now tasted a taste of ham. I wasn't struck by lightening, nothing bad has happened to me since then and I continue to be in good health - more to the point, my neshama didn't stop me.

As for the girlfriend situation, I love her lots and she loves me lots. Why would I want to break up with someone who I'm in a very happy relationship with, over a belief I don't believe in? I don't.

I understand your concern though, as I can imagine what I would say to someone a few years back, in my situation today...

I hope you have a kosher pesach =)

a fan said...

The mere fact that you have this blog and you feel the need to justify your thoughts proves that your Yiddishe neshama is pulling you away from your newfound lifestyle.

abandoning eden said...

why are you being all apologetic about the torah, and trying to find some truth in it? (ok, i get why, it's hard to grow up believing something, only to find out it's all a lie).

The way I see it is this: If parts of the torah are true (ie, snakes used to have legs) that's because people writing it lived in the world, and had some idea of what was going on in it. And maybe whenever it was written there was a longstanding idea that snakes used to have legs, because they did (did they?). That doesn't mean that any other parts of it are true, especially the divine origin part. The best lies have elements of truth in them.

Also ignore this fan person, as an atheist blogger you're going to see a whole lot of people like him/her.

Jewish Sceptic said...

a fan,

this blog isn't about justifying anything to anyone. It's about me articulating my experiences within my "newfound lifestyle" to a group of people who have gone through the same thing, those thinking about it, or a wider audience who enjoy reading about such things.

I don't feel the need to justify to everyone why I do things - although justification for my lack of belief is, of course, a necessary part of throwing off the shackles of belief. You can't not believe if you don't have a good reason not to - but my reasons are clear to myself and any period of justification is well over.

Thanks for your concern though.

I have pretty much taken your view of things and I would have hoped it would have been evident in the second paragraph of my blog, particularly the sentence "I would like to explore the idea that the ancients did in fact know a thing or two about evolution, simply through observing the world around them" - it seems I'm not much of a writer!

But why be an apologetic? I'm not, but I do have an interest in history and anthropology, so am just curious as to how people saw the world back then and if we can relate to it...

As for ignoring people, I'm happy (so far) to engage in dialogue with people about it, although my girlfriend did say the same thing as you!

And yes, snakes really did have legs.

a fan said...

So much for ignoring me. You're right. You must not feel the need to justify yourself. Having this blog is just something you spend hours on for fun. How about doing a little real Torah research? "You can't not believe if you don't have a good reason not to" works both ways.

And Abandoning Eden, I think I'll just ignore that comment.

Jewish Sceptic said...

A Fan,

"Having this blog is just something you spend hours on for fun."

I don't spend hours on it and it's more for intellectual recreation than actual "wheee!" fun. But as I said, mainly to relate shared experiences.

I could say of you that you're trying to justify your own position of belief to yourself by justifying why it is you think I went "off the derech" - your position which, as I've pointed out quite earnestly twice now, has no bearing on the reality of my life.

As ever, I appreciate your concern and welcome more comments from you.

abandoning eden said...

Have you seen this show "the naked archaeologist"? Not sure if they show it across the isn't on the history or the discovery channel or something. Anyways, it's this guy who goes to Israel and examines stuff from the bible using an archaeological perspective. It's really interesting, me and my bf watch it all the time- the guy is jewish, but it's pretty unbiased.

Jewish Sceptic said...


I haven't watched that no, but I have seen some similar programmes pretty recently, one of which covered the Exodus.

The more I find out about the Pessach story the more it seems just that: a good story.

Goldwasser Story said...

diffrent blogs push diffrent things

Ted Goas said...

"Massive life spans - Adam lived for 930 years" Yes! and apparently there were about seven or eight generations of this, according to Christian Bible believers. So that's 2,500 years, to be lenient. But the world is only 6,000 to 10,000 years, old? Hmm, something seems a bit off in this equation.

I'd also like to second Goldwasser Story's comment. I happen to like what you're doing on your blog. But if I didn't, I might choose just not to read rather than leaving comments like the ones above...

jewish philosopher said...

My blog has all the answers reconciling evolution and Torah. So don't worry about it.

Jewish Sceptic said...

ted goas,

if one generation is 30 years, regardless of how long one lives, it wouldn't necessarily be a problem. All it would mean is that people's lifespans would overlap for significant amounts of time.

I haven't looked into the bible on this, neither have i calculated it out, nor am I endorsing this particular belief, but it's just something which popped up in my head as a possile solution to the problem.

As a rule I'm suspicious of anyone purporting to have "all the answers" to anything, and I'm sure outside of a religious context you are too.

mOOm said...

Snaks had legs, but not in 4000BC or at any time when there were humans. This kind of stuff is pretty pointless - such as trying to find something about evolution in the Bible...