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A Raven teaches a lesson on death before the Fall

Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins the movie by telling you how it ends. Well, I say there are some things we don’t want to know. Important things. Ned Flanders. The Simpsons Episode: Lisa the Skeptic.

Today on the way to the UN I was attacked by a Raven. I found this fairly disturbing. Not for the reasons that you might be bothered. Being attacked by birds, of course is rarely pleasant, think back to certain Hitchcock movies that scared you as a kid. I was upset because, well, you see, I deeply identify with Ravens. I love these birds. I’ve read whole books on these dear, corvidentious wise bird-people, I’ve fantasized about studying them professionally (Ok, Ok, so my fantasy life needs a little work). I capitalize the noun that refers to them inappropriately. If I ever play Second Life, I will be a Raven (if that’s allowed). I’ve called them my totem birds. When I jog through the Donaupark and see them walking knowingly about I’ve always found delight in their presence. A kindred spirit. A strange camaraderie. I always say hello if no one is around to think me odd, and they always cock their head to the side in greeting. They really do. So when this bird attacked me I couldn’t help but see it as a metaphor of doom. When your totem animal attacks: Beware. Death (or worse) looms. Both I and the Raven were physically unhurt, but was I was confused about why my black-feathered sister (or brother) had dealt with me so and, well, quite frankly, hurt. It probably was defending a Raveling I couldn’t see somewhere, or something like that. Why couldn’t it tell, in some sort of New-Agish, cosmic sort of way (that all Corvids are suppose to have!) that I was a friend? Well, thoughts of death, attacks from rigid biological behavior, the dark feeling that accompanies an assault by your totem animal have turned my thoughts to the Fall. Death before the Fall. And the defenders of scriptural literalism.

How do we know that there was death before the Fall? Well, we don’t because we don’t know when the Fall was. However, most people would not push it back before the Cambrian Period. At least I’ve never seen Primary pictures that showed Adam and Eve walking in a rocky, lifeless world without Oxygen. And we’ve got really, really good evidence that lots of things died biologically before there was anything like humans on the earth. We call them fossils. So what do you do with statements from the scriptures about no death before the Fall? Well, I for one don’t know anything about the spiritual state of the earth way back in the way-back. There is nothing in chemistry-based biology that needs a spirit (I know, I know, we don’t really know how spirit matter plays into regular standard theory matter, but biology pretty much just needs the later to do all the stuff we see it doing at the scales above individual atoms). How do the No-death-before-Adam-ers know anything had a spirit back then? Isn’t that what they mean by death—separation of the body and spirit? Gads those people sure know a lot about things I don’t think anyone knows anything about—like trilobite spirits.

And why take the scripture so literally? Isn’t that what caused the whole Galileo affair in the Catholic Church? Shouldn’t we read our scriptures thoughtfully in the best light our current understanding allows? In a wonderful talk on different ways of knowing Elder Richard G. Scott in the Oct. 2007 conference mentions quarks and leptons. Now it may be in a hundred years from now we have a very different understanding of fundamental physics. Maybe quarks and leptons will be replaced with zatts and bogstringkins. But invariably there will be literalists writing blogs about how we have to believe in quarks and leptons because Elder Scott, AN APOSTLE (literalists love capitals), said they were REAL. Sadly, so it will always be I suppose. I suppose Galileo would not have believed that hundreds of years latter there would still be literalists around challenging our most basic scientific advancements. I keep thinking literalists should be gone by now. Of course, they are not gone. They still try and pinch out the light flowing into the world. Let me state this with raven-like boldness. The Christian fundamentalism picture of creationism that flowed into many members of our Church’s head in the early part of the century, without warrant from the Restoration, hurts genuine faith. It hurts faith because it dismisses one the vital ways of knowing the world. One that Elder Scott talks favorably about in his brilliant conference address. A science that dismisses faith is in error. A faith that dismisses science (as a principle, not in its individual findings, obviously even science challenges those, constantly questioning its own results is one of its great virtues) is limping. It is an undeveloped and frightened faith. It is a child’s faith in Santa Claus, not a mature faith seeking understanding. I don’t believe Science holds a hegemony on truth, nor do I think it’s the last word on important issues, but I do think at some point holding onto a scriptural literalist interpretation of a particular statement at the expense of massing evidence becomes harmful. Are the No-death-before-the-Fall crowd really arguing that either evolution is true or the church is true, but not both? It appears so. What’s their conclusion if evolution really is true? To me they are in deep trouble spiritually and intellectually. Moreover, I’ve seen a number of thoughtful honest seekers leave their faith behind or never gain it because they were convinced that such a dichotomy was the only legitimate stance. Scriptural literalism hurts. It always has and always will.

Questions for thought:If there was no death (and presumably birth) in Eden, how was decay managed? Decomposition, say of a cow pie, requires a massive microorganism population growth at the site of the pie, and then die back. Does this mean that things did not decay in Eden? What did that do to the smell? Could a place rightly be called paradise if it smelled badly? (Of course, literalists will have just caught me in my glaringly uniformitarian assumptions i.e., that because a cow pie smells badly now, it must have smelled badly then. They can easily argue that if the dating methods using radioactive decay are all wrong, then the olfactory condition of the universe could also be vastly different too. Right?)

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6 comments to A Raven teaches a lesson on death before the Fall

  • Great post and I love your blog. A picture showing Adam and Eve walking in a rocky, lifeless world without Oxygen would be priceless. Almost as good as Jesus riding a dinosaur (http://www.ericdsnider.com/snide/something-wiki-this-way-comes/)

  • […] Why take it so literally? Or how a raven relates to folks who cry “there was no death before the fall of Adam. Also see his discussion of how science is an art. […]

  • Rich Knapton

    I guess my question is what death are you talking about? Mormon doctrine specifies that man undergoes two deaths: physical death, spiritual death. So I think it important to try to determine which death Genesis is talking about. Christ brought the resurrection so that we and all creatures may be saved from physical death. But also he took upon Him the sins of the world. It seems logical that the first death was introduced as an aspect of the creation of this universe. That being the case, when was the second death introduced to the world? Well, we are taught that this was Adams job. In other words, the second death did not exist until the time of Adam. Prior to that time there was no second death.

    If you will notice, at no time did I change the literalness of the scriptures. I simply oriented the account so that a fuller picture of events could be taken into account.

    Now to move on to Jonah and the whale. This might be a bit harder to do.

    Rich

  • Without decay, a cow pie wouldn’t smell at all.

    Just FYI.

  • I haven’t read any of your other posts yet, but I really like how this post was posed as a personal essay. I feel largely the same way, in that rigid approaches can end up damaging faith.

    The truth is, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about this issue, of rigidity, knowledge, etc. Consider what Joseph Smith said:

    “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.331)

    I especially love this quote from Pres. Hugh B. Brown:

    “… while I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure that I understand what he has revealed. The fact that he has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and to be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead…We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth, for we do not… continue your search for truth. And maintain humility sufficient to be able to revise your hypotheses as new truth comes to you by means of the spirit or the mind. Salvation, like education, is an ongoing process…(An Eternal Quest–Freedom of the Mind, speech given to the BYU student body on May 13, 1969.)

    Read the whole thing:
    http://unicomm.byu.edu/president/documents/brown.htm

    Patience, humility, prayer, study and a desire to learn the mysteries of God will help us grow from grace to grace until we know “the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5.)

  • steve

    Stephen M opens the age old question if a bacteria dies in an intestine and no one is there to smell it, does it have an oder?

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