Consciousness and Genesis 1
I want to share my personal theory on the story of creation told in Genesis 1 today, but I of course first need to grab everyone’s attention with something interesting or clever so I figured I’d start with this joke:
A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot. They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake. Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and jumped in the water. Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi covered his face while they ran for cover.
After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”
Of course that joke has nothing to do with creation, but it’s funny so in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided that’s what counts. Now . . . moving on to the story of creation.
One of the oddities of the story of creation in Genesis 1 is that the order in which things were created makes no sense. First there’s day and night and then later, after there was land and plants, but before there were animals, the sun, moon and stars get made. Water was apparently pre-existing and had to be separated from air to make the sky. So on and so forth.
For creationists, none of this matters because somehow that’s just how God did it. For people who run a wee bit deeper and wider than that, both logic and science say that it couldn’t have happened like that. Those who reject religion say the creation story is just something people made up to explain the world and really means nothing. Christians who don’t blasphemously reject the evidence of God’s own creation in favor of man’s understanding of scripture figure the point of the story is that God made everything, he made it with purpose and it is good.
I personally have my own pet theory about why the order of creation is all jumbled up in Genesis 1. Unlike Muslims’ Quran or Mormon’s Book of Mormon, Christians and Jews have never claimed that their scripture came directly from God. Instead, our scripture is the result of God inspired human beings. Which means that rather than being given from outside of human experience, it is actually written from inside humanity’s perspective. It is my theory that the story of creation as told in Genesis 1 might be so jumbled up because it’s not telling the story from the outside in, but from the inside out. What if we were to assume that the story is being told from the perspective of the growing consciousness of life on this planet? Well, when the story is read from that perspective and compared to the science, something startling happens.
Let’s take a look starting at Genesis 1:3:
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
So let’s start with what I referred to just a minute ago as “the growing consciousness of life”. For our purposes, I’d define “consciousness” as an organism’s capacity to have some awareness of and a capacity to react to something outside of itself.
Differing sorts of life on this planet have different levels of consciousness. So perhaps the first awareness beyond itself that a life form had was an awareness of light and dark. And then an awareness that light and dark alternated – day and night. At some point in deep evolutionary history, single cell organisms began to differentiate as some of them responded to changes between light and dark. This would be consciousness emerging – an ability to experience and respond to something outside of an organisms’ boundaries. Life emerging. Starting with the difference between when it is light and when it is dark on planet earth.
Next the text tells us:
God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
Since life on our planet almost certainly started in water, water would be all the first life forms had an awareness of. But at some point, life came to the surface and discovered – or was affected by and therefor aware of – another sort of substance – air. Now life had an awareness of water and air or sky. They had been seperated.
God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
After starting in the water, eventually life would bump into land, and even find itself stranded there. Some of these life forms would survive and adapt. So now, in addition to water and sky, there is life that is aware/conscious/reacting to dry land.
Which leads us right into Genesis 1:11-13
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
In time, some of those organisms which got cast onto the land would start to adapt and mosses, fungi and then leafy plants and, much later, fruiting and flowering plants would appear. Now, A funny thing about plants – scientists have found that plants appear to have a form of consciousness which is surprisingly sophisticated. We tend to think of plants as living but unthinking life forms. Yet scientists have found that plants recognize other plants from the same “mother” plant as siblings and will work together with them to make all of them stronger. Plants respond to touch and chemical odors. They can communicate with other plants about coming dangers. When they are damaged, they send chemical signals which appear analogous to pain signals sent along our nervous system. (Here’s an interesting slide show about plants which may convince you that plants have some form of sentience or consciousness.)
Next the text says:
God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
So now we have life capable of recognizing day and night, water, air and land and plant life. Interestingly, and unexpectedly, God makes the sun, moon and stars next. Since my idea is that we are being told the story of creation from the perspective of life and it’s growing awareness of the world around it, this actually makes some sense. A bacterium might be aware of day and night without being aware of a sun which makes the daylight much less the moon or stars. But once life and land met, tides, which are affected by the phases of the moon might be recognized and taken advantage of my developing life forms. There are claims going back to antiquity that plants germinate better at either full or new moon. Some modern scientists agree, saying that the same gravitational forces which create tides also pull water in the earth closer to the surface and water within a plant towards the top-growing parts of the plant. And plants rather notoriously follow the path of the sun across the sky. So now there’s a sun and a moon that life is interacting directly with.
It’s hard to say whether any life forms would have been aware of the pin-pricks of starlight, the ideas of astrology not withstanding, but certainly, the changing seasons which are in alignment with the movement of the stars across the sky would be affecting and changing both water-bound and plant life as they spread beyond equatorial and temperate zones of the planet.
God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
Moving on, we get the scientifically accurate and predictable next part of life’s evolution:
God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Now, we have land animals. After things like sponges, algae and insect, various amphibians and reptiles move onto land. I won’t go through the history of land animals, except to say that they appeared pretty late in the evolutionary game – around 400-450 million years ago. And of course, animals which were around when man made his appearance on the scene first showed up around 200 million years ago and didn’t really take over until after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. So the birds seem a bit out of place in our “life’s growing awareness of the world around it” theory of Genesis 1, but overall it does track with the actual development of life’s consciousness on earth.
God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,a and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Finally, mankind shows up. One of the things which I personally find interesting is at which point a creature could be said to be human. Neanderthals could be shockingly human, for example. They made leather, fire and tools, sometimes buried their dead and cared for their sick, injured and crippled and mated with homo sapiens. Pair bonding may have showed up in the line human beings evolved from as far back as Australopithecus – some 4 million years ago. Since man showed up before pair bonding – the appearance of Eve – it seems possible that what makes us human developed long before homo sapiens came about. We may simply be the latest version of Adam – man.
One last note: the history of life on this planet goes back around 3 billion years. If we take Genesis 1 to represent something which actually happened, that means the story compresses 3 billion years into 6 days. Clearly, the various events described did not happen at a steady rate, so the days wouldn’t be of equal lengths. But it does raise a possible answer for another mystery from Genesis. When God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he said that if they did, they would die “on that day”. Adam and Eve ate and went on to live for hundreds of years, according to scripture. So did God lie or relent? It could be that we are still living in the day in which Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Which means that we could still be facing a death sentence for our species. Of course, Jesus showed us that death is not the end and has promised resurrection, so who knows what that all means. In the meantime, we can now make jokes about naked religious leaders that wouldn’t have made any sense to hominids before the fall, so I guess it’s not all bad!
Anyways, there it is – my plausible, but not air-tight theory for what Genesis 1 is actually describing. What d’ya think?
You may also want to check out:
The Upside Down World on Evolution and Christianity
What’s the Deal With Adam and Eve Part 1
What’s the Deal With Adam and Eve Part 2
My series on what really happened at the fall starts here:
Why Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden
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