Genesis 1 is a story of creation, yes? For some folk, this an essential quality of God and sort of proof of God. A God who can’t create a world, what good is that? H’mm? If this is the case, then science and evolution are threatening. But that is not me, mostly (more on that below). For one thing, “truth” can be found as much in fiction as in fact — heart-truth, sorrow-truth, joyful-truth, bitter-truth. Exploring scripture — God’s living Word — as a conversation with God that has lasted millennia and changed over time is a way to search and sort and sift for truth. And the bible is full of poetry, myth, soap opera, fables, battles, love, rules, etc. — as an English major you take a genre for what it is and go with it and poke at it and think about it. But you don’t twist it to be something it isn’t.
But I honestly do absolutely sympathize with those who feel threatened. Raised a good Unitarian Universalist girl who loves science fiction, I was eager to take my science requirement classes in college. And I took an anthropology class thinking it would be good and interesting — which it was. But I had never truly studied evolution before, never in a getting-it-in-my-brain-to-pass-a-test sort of way.
I was suddenly in a quandary. I was maybe 19 or 20? And I had lived mostly in books, to be honest; I was an English lit and creative writing major. So I had not truly thought about evolution. I had little knowledge of scripture so that wasn’t the issue. I was only vaguely aware that “evolution” was a topic that could rile people up. I was only sort of aware that some religious folks didn’t believe in it. I wasn’t worried about the science of it at all.
But suddenly I was in a bit of a quandary, which took me several weeks to put into words. And then I went to see the TA (teaching assistant). I was too shy to visit the professor and I figured I was just being stupid somehow.
So I popped into the poor TA’s office. “Hey,” I said. “I’m in the class? And I’m confused about this one part of evolution from the book? I can’t find the answer?”
You just have to picture me, basically cheerful and un-aware and absolutely clueless.
The poor TA goes, “So what is confusing you?”
And I go, “What makes us humans different from animals?”
And he goes, “Umm?” And his face looks like Where-do-I-hide?
And I go (as best I remember), “You know, if we humans have souls, how does that work with evolution? Or do animals have souls too? Or maybe it has something to do with the brain, with the number of neurons or something?”
And he is really absolutely horrified now. He goes, “Umm.”
And I just smile at him and sit back and I’m waiting for wisdom.
Which the poor TA obviously could not supply. As best I recall he said something like, “That won’t be any part of any test, so it’s okay that there is no answer to those sorts of questions. Maybe in philosophy? But not here.”
I realize now, looking back, that the poor guy was terrified. Was I some sort of religious person? Was he going to get the university in trouble? And I realize (now) that he honestly may never have had these questions before. Maybe he had only a very practical brain.
I had thought all answers could be found somewhere, some way, by someone. But, of course, that just isn’t so. There are questions that just have mysteries for answers.
I was as shaken by the TA not having an answer as I was at the thought that humans might just be another sort of animal and not fundamentally different in some way. I was genuinely upset that semester trying to figure out what makes humans different from animals. I think I don’t have a very existential brain and the quandary sort of faded. And I think I also, mostly unconsciously, decided that humans-tell-stories and that works for me. At any rate, one way to look at Day 6 is that it explores this very question about animals and humans, but it has taken me more than thirty years to realize that.
So I guess pretty soon I’ll have to actually move on to Day 6. Yikes!