Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Welcome Aboard, Mrs. Ples—Your Cabin is Number 10,587,282A

There will be some continued delays in my posts because of viruses: they are filling me, and have filled all my computer connections. I am using a spare computer in a classroom right now.

After I returned from my fun creationist weekend (see previous seven entries), I began wondering about how Noah might have sorted out the biodiversity that he had to fit into the Ark, if you believe the Flood story of Genesis 6-9 literally. In particular, I wondered about what Noah might have thought about the apemen whose existence is now thoroughly proved from the fossil record.

First, consider human diversity. Creationists commonly claim that the genetic diversity of Homo sapiens was preserved on the Ark because, perhaps, the three wives of Noah’s three sons were black/Australoid, white, and oriental/Native American. There is no Biblical basis for this, but creationists have never had a problem with just making stuff up. Sounds like a good premise for a Britcom, actually, or an episode of News from Lake Wobegon. Mrs. Shem always fixed hummus, Mrs. Ham always fixed okra, and Mrs. Japheth always fixed lutefisk.

Then, consider what Noah might have done with Homo ergaster. This species of animal looked just like us except that the entire species had brains much smaller than ours. What would Noah have done if the Turkana Boy showed up? (Actually, an adult pair of his species; the Turkana Boy died in adolescence of a tooth infection.) The answer? This species did not yet exist at the time of the Flood, according to many creationists. Their remains are only in the most recent layers, such as in Africa’s Rift Valley, so they must have lived after the Flood. Which means that they must have been (presumably degenerate) descendants of Noah. Apparently the whole species developed small brains, which means either that God miraculously microcephalized them or else that natural selection favored microcephalic mutants. But I guess this would explain why they seemed to make nothing but Acheulean hand axes. What did they use for cutting meat? Hand axes. What did they use for trimming their toenails? Hand axes. What did they use for tightening stone screws in their Flinstone-mobiles? Hand axes. Makes sense.

Finally, consider what Noah might have done with the australopithecines. These animals walked like humans but might otherwise have been chimp-like. Among the famous australopithecines who did not make it to the Ark were Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), and Mrs. Ples (Australopithecus africanus). Presumably, Noah would have sent all of these apeman species to animal quarters. Noah, like modern creationists, would presumably have had no hesitation in classifying animals into human and nonhuman categories. (I understand that creationists consider the fossils of these species to also be post-Flood.)

But Noah’s confidence may have resulted from the fact that he lived in the Middle East, where there were no primates other than humans. The other mammal species were things like cows and sheep, all of which were clearly less intelligent than humans. This is perhaps the reason that the monotheistic religions, which posit an absolute distinction between humans and animals, evolved in the Middle East, according to Frans DeWaal. The religions that evolved in parts of the world where non-human primates are common did not, and perhaps could not, make such a clear distinction, because monkeys and apes resemble us quite strongly. Queen Victoria, when she saw Jenny the orangutan at the London Zoo in 1842, declared her to be “painfully and disagreeably human.”

Creationists have no more hesitation at drawing an absolute distinction between the saved and the damned than they do between humans and animals. Anyone who has, like me, been treated as damned by a creationist will know what I mean.

Don’t miss my new book, Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed-Out World, just published by Prometheus Books.

1 comment:

  1. I chuckled aloud as I read this entry...Oh, I remember my days of being a belligerent Creationist. Now, I just laugh about the absurdity of it all. :)