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?)