08 September, 2005
Author: George Irbe
Back to George's Views
THE GENESIS DECLARATION
Some years ago I wrote an essay titled God, His Laws and Mankind in which I presented my understanding of God’s master-design (what I call his Laws) on which he bases his creation (call it the Universe or the Cosmos) and according to which he orders it to function. I also said that I believe that God gave man intelligence far greater than any other creature on Earth for a special purpose: man was to observe, interpret, comprehend, and - last and most important of all - comply with all these Laws, even as man took advantage of his great intelligence to eventually become dominant over all other living things on Earth, and developed the skills to exploit all the Earth’s resources for his own betterment.
In that essay, I also stated that it is my belief that men appear unwilling to learn from past mistakes, to learn from the consequences of breaking both the moral and physical Laws laid down by the Creator. Men continue to perpetrate moral wrongs against their own kind and against other living creatures; and they continue to despoil the physical environment. What I said in God, His Laws and Mankind was mostly an outpouring of thoughts and what are colloquially called ‘gut feelings,’ which were based partly on my own philosophical understandings, and partly on my life’s experiences and observations of human nature and human behavior.
Recently I came across a remarkable little book by Ronald Wright, titled A Short History of Progress, published in 2004 by House of Anansi Press, Toronto. The book presents the unvarnished and not-so-glorious history of man from the dawn of his beginnings to the present. I found that the factual historical evidence in this book substantiates many of my ‘gut feelings’ and inferences about the short-comings of human nature and behavior which I had expressed in God, His Laws and Mankind. Therefore, I thought it would be worth my while to re-visit the point that mankind always has acted, and continues to act, in defiance of God’s Laws; however, this time I would enlist Wright’s factual evidence in support of my philosophical arguments which are posited on an admittedly amateurish model of theistic creationism.
Before proceeding further, a few remarks about Wright’s A Short History of Progress are in order: Wright has packed an astonishing amount of historical, anthropological, archeological, and cultural information on the ascent (and in many ways, I would argue, the descent) of man in this little book of only 132 pages of text. It is also a very scholarly work, in that it includes copious footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. For all that, Wright’s language is often sprinkled with wry humor and is quite digestible by the ordinary person. That marks this little book as a truly exceptional piece of work. The only smudges to be found in Wright’s work are his occasional gratuitous injections of leftist ideological beliefs into the scientific commentary. These, however, will be tolerated and forgiven by informed readers: Wright is a Canadian, and A Short History of Progress was originally produced as a lecture for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s production of the 2004 Massey Lectures, as part of CBC Radio’s Ideas series. Enough said.
When I searched my mind for a suitable theme under which I could best combine Wright’s factual evidence with my abstract philosophical model, I discovered that certain statements in Genesis 1 and 9 of the Bible provided a perfect fit. The Genesis theme also served admirably well for the title: The Genesis Declaration.
The Genesis Statements
Genesis 1:26-29 states: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”
And later, Genesis 9:1-3 states, once again: God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
To begin with I want to mention that in God, His Laws and Mankind I did not specifically cite Genesis, nor analyze its contents in detail. Rather, I used a general term “holy books” to denote any and all ancient writings of a religious nature; I did so because it seemed to me most likely that Homo sapiens has worshiped innumerable deities and believed in his superiority over all other creatures on earth already for tens of thousands of years before Moses; and could very well have recorded his beliefs in places and in ways that I, being neither a trained historian nor archeologist, would not be aware of. Thus, in God, His Laws and Mankind I made only this general statement:
As man became aware of his superiority over other life forms and as he learned that this superiority was due not to greater physical prowess but to his greater intelligence, he decided to willfully misinterpret God's purposes. Man had the egocentric presumptuousness to claim, and like a shyster to write the false claim into his "holy books", that God had exempted him from compliance with the Laws that apply to the rest of his Creation, and that God had granted man absolute dominion over everything on Earth, including absolute powers to dispose of all other things, living or inanimate, without measure, without limits, without mercy, and without accountability. So it is that while - by Natural Law - most living things, save perhaps the most primitive, kill other living things only in order that they themselves can live and propagate, man kills in excess of his needs and simply for pleasure, to boot.
Upon taking a closer look at the Genesis statements in question, verse by verse, I was amazed by how laden they are with meaning which may escape a casual reading of them. So much so, that I found I could correlate the import of individual verses with passages from A Short History of Progress (hereafter SHP), and with my own ideas which were expressed before in God, His Laws and Mankind (hereafter GLM).
Genesis is the first book of the Bible. According to biblical scholars, Genesis was most likely written by Moses around 1420 BCE, give or take a decade or two. Genesis thus covers a very long span of time, from the creation of the universe to the sojourn of the tribes of Israel in Egyptian captivity. In the first 25 verses, Genesis 1 recounts, in short order, everything from the very beginning of the creation of the universe to the creation of all the living things on Earth, except for the creation of man, who is treated as a separate living thing starting with verse 26. Most modern cosmologists concede that there are aspects of the theoretical model of creation portrayed by Moses (and therefore the one most likely to have been generally held by learned men of his times) which are not to be laughed at even today. Particularly notable is Moses’ chronological order of the creation sequence. I, too, have no argument with the first 25 verses of the Bible, but find that it soon departs from rational thought, beginning with Genesis 1:26. From then onwards, one must read the Bible with caution; it is history wrapped up in veils of religious fiction.
Before I discuss Genesis 1:26-29 and 9:1-3 in detail, I must state that I am convinced that everything in the Bible was written by men for men, and that God had nothing to do with the writing of it. All you “God’s stenographers,” from Moses to Mohammed, please hold your temper. The Bible was written by men of more than average intelligence. They wrote it with a dual purpose in mind: the first one was to produce a historical record of the life of their people; the second was to cloak the historical record in religious fiction. The first one was directed at the intelligent and educated few – those who had “eyes to see and ears to hear,” and the second at the ignorant and gullible majority of people whose simple minds are too fragile to face the harsh truths of reality and must instead be comforted with religious myths. Obviously, the book of Genesis, like all other books of the Bible, was written with this dual purpose in mind.
I am equally convinced that it is only natural that when writing the Bible men put their own self-interest first, just like they do with everything else they do. One of the most important components of self-interest for the gullible mass of people is that they be assured of approval, or of absolution, by a higher power (i.e. a deity) for all their actions. Therefore, I will look at the verses in Genesis 1 and 9 in question with the qui bono aspect in mind.
Genesis 1:26-29 and 9:1-3 contain several unabashedly self-serving assertions of a rather wicked nature.
To begin with, verses 26 and 27 in Genesis 1 make a monumentally self-serving assertion (in my opinion, at once most contemptible and demented) that God first decides (in verse 26), and then proceeds (in verse 27), to create man in his own image and likeness! Of course, this assertion means that one could not tell by appearances alone the Creator from a member of Homo sapiens, if the two happened to stand side by side. God is thus made the same as man, and man the same as God!
Many serious thinkers understand God to be the Creator of everything, the Supreme being - “that which no greater can be thought of, or conceived.” It is an absolutely insane idea to anthropomorphize God, who we cannot possibly even conceive of and describe by mere human intelligence! Yet, that is exactly what Moses (or whoever wrote Genesis) has done.
In Genesis 1:28-29, and in Genesis 9:1-3, God actually talks to human beings. Now, for the same reason as above, which is that God is “that which no greater can be thought of, or conceived,” a rational person knows for a fact that God cannot possibly have ever spoken to any human being, nor commanded any human being to record his spoken words on stone, tablet, papyrus, or what have you.
Verse 28 of Genesis 1 and verse 1 of Genesis 9 makes another self-serving and utterly selfish assertion, which is cleverly put into the mouth of God: It is man’s right to unconstrained and unlimited insemination of the female of the species; it is self-serving because the sexual act is, of course, most pleasurable, and it is selfish because a forever-increasing human population comes at the cost of first a decrease in, and finally the extinction of, other free-ranging species on earth.
Another assertion, also cleverly put into the mouth of God, is the most wicked and ominous of all. It is stated in Genesis 1:26-29 and in Genesis 9:1-3 that every beast, bird, fish and all other living things on earth are to be food for man. That, on its face, would not be an unreasonable assertion were it also to call for restraint and temperance in man’s consumption of them, which it sadly does not. Instead, verse 2 of Genesis 9 promises that all other creatures will fear and dread man; and that man will determine their ultimate fate: that’s what “into your hands are they delivered” means. This assertion mocks the Creator, because it claims that he has abandoned the most glorious part of his creation here on earth – the myriad of living things – to the mercy of man; to be abused and destroyed by man at his pleasure. This assertion rivals in wickedness the first one which claims that God created man in his own image.
There is another aspect about the Genesis statements which aroused my suspicion that there might be a strong qui bono factor hidden within them.
The act and sequence of creation in Genesis 1 would be just as completely described if verse 26 said only something to the effect that “last of all God created man,” and then were to go directly to what is now Genesis 1:31, which states: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” In other words, verses 27, 28, 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 are not essential to the story of creation. Obviously, they have been added for another reason. I was naturally led to ask what that reason might be, suspecting that it must be, as usual, a very human reason.
Strikingly, this curious feature in Genesis 1 recurs in Genesis 9 which is part of the story of Noah and the great flood. Here again, verses 1 to 3 do not belong in the story about the flood, but essentially repeat what has already been said in Genesis 1:26-30. I naturally became convinced that the assertions concerning man’s god-like status and ownership of the planet Earth had, in the view of the author, a great importance all their own. These assertions are strangely out of context in both the story of creation and the story of the great flood. I am compelled to ask: Why, then, were they inserted in such ill-fitting manner, not once but twice?
What did Moses know?
By the time Moses wrote Genesis (circa 1420 B.C.E.), men had already been living for some two thousand years in developed civilizations of considerable size, sustained largely by agricultural food production. In Genesis 1 Moses describes the creation of man – an event that occurred at some moment long before his time. According to anthropologists, the date of the appearance of man depends very much on which of our ancestral species one chooses to regard as having the characteristics that define it as being a creature worthy of the name “man”. In SHP it states that:
. . . we now know that we are the remote descendants of apes who lived in Africa about 5 million years ago. Modern apes, which are also descended from the same original stock, are kin, not ancestors. [p.30]
The Old Stone Age began nearly 3 million years ago, with the first rough tools made by the first rough beasts slouching towards humanity, and ended only 12,000 years ago . . . in human terms, the Old Stone Age is a deep abyss of time – more than 99.5 percent of our existence from which we crawled into the soft beds of civilization only yesterday. Even our modern subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens, is between ten and twenty times older than the oldest civilization. [p.32]
Homo sapiens sapiens is also known as the Cro-Magnon man, who appeared about 130,000 years ago, at the same time as the Neanderthal man. We can safely assume that the “man” that Moses says God created in his own image is the modern man - Homo sapiens sapiens – the only kind of man Moses could have been aware of. Yet, as is stated above, this modern man was already ten to twenty times older than the civilization Moses was living in.
Before I proceed further, I must pose a question, the importance of which will become apparent in due course: Did the civilization in which Moses lived have any memory, written or word-of-mouth, of the history of mankind in the many centuries that preceded their own times?
I want to propose a “what-if” theory: What if Moses (or whoever wrote Genesis) had at least some sense, or inkling, of the huge span of human history that must have elapsed from the moment, postulated by the author of Genesis, at which God created man in his own image to the time when Genesis was written.
Moses himself had seen the Egyptian pyramids and had lived in that already highly developed civilization. Surely, Moses was an educated man, one who could read and write. Without knowledge of the history of the ancestors of his people - of Terah, the father of Abraham, who was born in Ur, of Noah who was flooded out of Eden - Moses (or perhaps his educated scribes, if such was the case) could not have related the events in the book of Genesis in the way that he, or they, did. And finally, surely reason, if nothing else, would tell him that man could not have progressed from the moment of his creation to a civilized state in one leap. Reason would tell him that much time must have elapsed just to satisfy God’s command to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth,” if for no other reasons.
Let us now go to SHP to see what it tells us about the times and places that are recounted in Genesis, having recourse to today’s large store of scientific knowledge on the subject:
The earliest [civilization] of all was Sumer, in what is now southern Iraq. The Sumerians, whose own ethnic and linguistic stock is unclear, set a pattern that Semitic cultures and others in the Old World would follow. They came to exemplify both the best and the worst of the civilized life, and they told us about themselves in cuneiform script on clay tablets, one of the most enduring mediums for the human voice, a writing like the tracks of trained birds. They set down the oldest written stories in the world, a body of texts known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, compiled in “strong-walled Uruk, the city of great streets” around the time that Stonehenge and the first Egyptian pyramids were being built. Legends we know from the Hebrew Bible – the Garden of Eden, the Flood – appear in Gilgamesh in earlier forms . . [p.65]
Had Moses and his contemporaries read The Epic of Gilgamesh? Did he perhaps have knowledge, passed on by word-of-mouth in the from of legends, of times even more ancient, of the first permanent human settlement at Jericho some 6500 years before his time, and perhaps of the cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers, the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, who inhabited the region we now call the Middle East even before Jericho - a place that figures prominently in the Bible - became a permanent settlement?
SHP tells us what devastation men wrought in the place called in the Bible “the Garden of Eden”, and in Sumer – the ancestral home of Abraham:
. . it’s a mistake to assume that the Fertile Crescent, for all its natural endowments, its plants and animals suitable for domestication, developed quickly or easily. Even after several thousand years of farming and herding, the biggest Middle Eastern settlements – Jericho (near the Dead Sea) and Catal Huyuk (in Anatolia) – were still tiny, covering only ten acres and thirty acres, respectively.
Insofar as the Garden of Eden had a physical geography, this was it. The serpent, however, was not the only enemy. Fortifications at Jericho and elsewhere speak of competition for land and a heavier human presence than the sites alone attest. Nor was the farming life easier or healthier than the hunting life had been: people were smaller in build and worked longer hours than non-farmers. Average life expectancy, deduced from burials at Catal Huyuk, was twenty-nine years for women and thirty-four for men. By 6000 B.C., there is evidence of widespread deforestation and erosion. Cavalier fire-setting and over-grazing by goats may have been chief culprits, but lime-burning for plaster and whitewash also destroyed the woodland, until it became the thorny scrub and semi-desert seen there today. By 5500 B.C, many of the early Neolithic sites were abandoned. . . But, . . . these people had room to flee and start again.
Self-driven from Eden, (God’s flaming sword being perhaps a glint of the fires they had set in the hills), they found a second paradise lower down on the great floodplain of the Tigris and Euphrates, the land called Mesopotamia, or Iraq. The look of this place is fresh in our minds from modern wars: treeless plains and dying oases, salt pans, dust storms, oil slicks, and burnt-out tanks. Here and there, crumbling in the ruthless sun and wind, are great mounds of mud brick – ruins of ancient cities whose names still echo in the cellars of our culture – Babylon, Uruk, and Ur of the Chaldees, where Abraham was born.
Back in the fifth and fourth millennia B.C., southern Iraq had been a marshy delta of channels teeming with fish, reeds taller than a house, and sandbars rich in date palms. Wild boar and waterfowl lived in the canebrakes. The alluvial earth, if tilled, could yield a hundredfold on every seed, for this was new land, laid down at the head of the Persian Gulf. “New” in a manner of speaking: the people who settled here had in effect followed their old fields, which had been washed from the worn hills by the great rivers flowing, as the Bible says, out of Eden
God had spread a second chance before the children of Adam and Eve, but in this recycled Eden, unlike the first, they would eat only by sweat and toil. “The exploitation of this natural paradise,” wrote Gordon Childe in his classic work, The Most Ancient East, “required intensive labor and the organized co-operation of large bodies of men. Arable land had literally to be created . . . by a ‘separation’ of land from water; the swamps must be drained; the floods controlled; the life-giving waters led to the rainless desert by artificial canals.” It seems that in this case at least, the hierarchies of civilization grew with the demands of water control.
The scattered mud villages grew into towns. And by 3000 B.C., these towns had become small cities, rebuilt again and again on their own debris until they rose above the plain in earthen mounds known as tells. Throughout most of its thousand-year run, Sumerian civilization was dominated by a dozen such cities, each the heart of a small state. Only twice was a unified kingdom briefly forged: first by the Semitic invader Sargon, and later by the Third Dynasty of Ur. It is thought that four-fifths of the Sumerian population lived in urban centers, and that the entire population was only half a million. [p.66-68]
A small civilization such as Sumer, dependant on a single ecosystem and without high ground, was especially vulnerable to flood and drought. Such disasters were viewed, then as now, as “acts of God” (or gods). Like us, the Sumerians were only dimly aware that human activity was also to blame. Floodplains will always flood, sooner or later, but deforestation of great watersheds upstream made inundations much fiercer and more deadly than they would otherwise have been. Woodlands, with their carpet of undergrowth, mosses, and loam, work like great sponges, soaking up rainfall and allowing it to filter slowly into the earth below; trees drink up water and breathe it into the air. But wherever primeval woods and their soils have been destroyed by cutting, burning, overgrazing, or ploughing, the bare subsoil bakes hard in dry weather and acts like a roof in wet. The result is flash floods, sometimes carrying such heavy loads of silt and gravel that they rush from steep ravines like liquid concrete. Once the waters reach a floodplain, they slow down, dump their gravel, and spread out in a brown tide that oozes its way to the sea.
Staggering alluvial forces are at work in Mesopotamia. In the 5,000 years since Sumerian records began, the twin rivers have filled in eighty miles of the Persian Gulf. Iraq’s second city of Basra was open sea in ancient times. The plains of Sumer are more than two hundred miles wide. In times of an unusually great flood – the kind that might happen once a century or so – a king standing in the rain on a temple softening under his feet, would see nothing but water between himself and the rim of the sky.
Not only did Adam and Eve drive themselves from Eden, but the eroded landscape they left behind set the stage for Noah’s flood. In the early days, when the city mounds were low and easily swamped, the only refuge would have been a boat. The Sumerian version of the legend, told in the first person by a man named Utnapishtim, has the ring of real events, with vivid detail on freak weather and broken dams. In it we may see not only the forerunner of the biblical story but the first eyewitness account of a man-made environmental catastrophe.
Rivers rinse salt from rocks and earth and carry it to the sea. But when people divert water onto arid land, much of it evaporates and the salt stays behind. Irrigation also causes water-logging, allowing brackish groundwater to seep upward. Unless there is good drainage, long fallowing, and enough rainfall to flush the land, irrigation schemes are future salt pans.
Southern Iraq was one of the most inviting areas to begin irrigation, and one of the hardest in which to sustain it: one of the most seductive traps ever laid by progress. After a few centuries of bumper yields, the land began to turn against its tillers. The first sign of trouble was the decline in wheat, a crop that behaves like the coalminer’s canary. As time went by, the Sumerians had to replace wheat with barley, which has a higher tolerance for salt. By 2500 B.C. wheat was only 15 percent of the crop, and by 2100 B.C. Ur had given up wheat altogether.
As builders of the world’s first great watering schemes, the Sumerians can hardly be blamed for failing to foresee their new technology’s consequences. But political and cultural pressures certainly made matters worse. When populations were smaller, the cities had been able to sidestep the problem by lengthening fallow periods, abandoning ruined fields, and bringing new land under production, albeit with rising effort and cost. After the mid-third millennium, there was no new land to be had. Population was then at a peak, the ruling class top-heavy . . . the Sumerians failed to reform their society to reduce its environmental impact. On the contrary, they tried to intensify production, especially during the Akkadian empire (c. 2350-2150 B.C.) and their swan song under the Third Dynasty of Ur, which fell in 2000 B.C.
The short-lived empire of Ur . . . [stuck] to entrenched beliefs and practices, robbing the future to pay the present, spending the last reserves of natural capital on a reckless binge of excessive wealth and glory. Canals were lengthened, fallow periods reduced, population increased, and the economic surplus concentrated on Ur itself to support grandiose building projects. The result was a few generations of prosperity (for the rulers), followed by a collapse from which southern Mesopotamia has never recovered.
By 2000 B.C., scribes were reporting that the earth had “turned white.” All crops, including barley, were failing. Yields fell to a third of their original levels. The Sumerians’ thousand years in the sun of history came to an end. Political power shifted north to Babylon and Assyria, and much later, under Islam, to Baghdad. Northern Mesopotamia is better drained than the south, but even there the same cycle of degradation would be repeated by empire after empire, down to modern times. No one, it seems, was willing to learn from the past. Today, fully half of Iraq’s irrigated land is saline – the highest proportion in the world, followed by the other centers of floodplain civilization, Egypt and Pakistan.
As for the ancient cities of Sumer, a few struggled on as villages, but most were utterly abandoned. Even after 4,000 years, the land around them remains sour and barren, still white with the dust of progress. The desert in which Ur and Uruk stand is a desert of their making. [p.77-79]
In short, today we understand that it was man who destroyed the place called “Eden” and also the Sumerian civilization. Both were destroyed by reckless deforestation and soil erosion due to intensive farming, in order to meet the insatiable demands of a growing population. In Sumer there was also soil contamination through irrigation which delivered the coup de grace to this civilization
Archeological evidence suggests that “Eden” was abandoned by 5500 B.C.E., having been reduced to the “thorny scrub and semi-desert” that Moses could observe with his own eyes in his own time. The “Noah” flood probably occurred prior to that, because SHP infers that the people who settled in Mesopotamia “in effect followed their old fields, which had been washed from the worn hills by the great rivers flowing, as the Bible says, out of Eden.” [p.68] Best guesses, based on written records and archeology, estimate the time of the Gilgamesh flood to be around 3000 B.C.E. Thus, the “Noah” flood probably preceded the one in Sumer, although there is much controversy about both dates. In any case, the point I want to make here is that Moses probably knew not only about the two catastrophic floods but also that they were caused by men’s abuse and misuse of the land. Certainly, The Epic of Gilgamesh records in writing the fate of the Sumerian civilization in unmistakable terms.
All human civilizations, from the most ancient to the most modern, have been based primarily on agriculture; and all of them have committed nearly identical degradation of the land that sustained them. SHP documents the degradation which led up to the ultimate demise of many by-gone civilizations, and foretells the probable collapse of our own.
Moses, of course, could have had an inkling only of the reasons for the collapse of a couple of such civilizations – Sumer, and possibly “Eden.” He also had witnessed in person the periodic afflictions that visited the Egyptian agricultural civilization which was entirely dependent on the good behavior of the Nile river. The Nile was a not-so-obvious blessing for the Egyptian civilization; it was the Nile which in effect kept it in check, preventing it from over-populating itself. As described in SHP:
Egypt’s farming methods were simple – as conservative as the culture itself – and worked with, rather than against, the natural water cycle. The Nile valley’s narrowness and drainage slowed the salt build-up that poisoned Sumer; and . . . ancient Egyptians generally knew better than to build on farmland.
Egypt’s population growth was unusually slow. Throughout the Pharaonic, Roman, and Arabic periods, it stayed well below world average – taking 3,000 years, from the Old Kingdom to Cleopatra’s time, to rise from under two million to 6 million, and rising no further until the nineteenth century, when modern irrigation began. This tells us that 6 million people, or 400 per square mile, was the carrying capacity of the Nile farmland, a limit grimly enforced by famine when the river faltered and by high levels of water-borne disease. Nature made Egypt live within its means. [p.103-104]
Finally, Moses probably knew from stories and legends about the many kinds of wild animals that had once been plentiful in his region of the Middle East and were now scarce or absent. He must have known of the exotic creatures the Egyptian rulers liked to import, for show and amusement, from distant regions of Africa. Perhaps he understood that men had eradicated these animals from regions where they now cultivated their fields of crops and grazed their herds of domesticated creatures. But, we can be quite sure that Moses did not feel, or think, that there was anything wrong with this picture. Animals had no other value except for the use by man. After all, Moses was a Cro-Magnon man, the one he believed was created in God’s image. He had the same innate primordial instincts and cravings of the Cro-Magnon man that still lurk inside all of us humans today.
What we know today that Moses did not know
We now know, some 3,400 years after Moses, what our Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherer ancestors had wrought millennia ago. We also know that we ourselves still continue, to this day, the profligate hunting (and fishing) practices of the Cro-Magnon. Some excerpts from SHP will give an idea:
The modern human animal – our physical being – is a generalist. We have no fangs, claws, or venom built into our bodies. Instead we’ve devised tools and weapons – knives, spearheads, poisoned arrows. Elementary inventions such as warm clothing and simple watercraft allowed us to overrun the whole planet before the end of the last Ice Age. Our specialization is the brain. The flexibility of the brain’s interactions with nature, through culture, has been the key to our success. [p.29]
During the Upper Palaeolithic, one kind of human – the Cro-Magnon, or Homo sapiens – multiplied and fanned out around the world, killing, displacing, or absorbing all other variants of man, then entering new worlds that had never felt a human foot. . . By 15,000 years ago, at the very latest – long before the ice withdraws – humankind is established on every continent except Antarctica. . . this prehistoric wave of discovery and migration had profound ecological consequences. Soon after man shows up in new lands, the big game starts to go missing. Mammoths and wooly rhinos retreat north, then vanish from Europe and Asia. A giant wombat, other marsupials, and a tortoise as big as a Volkswagen disappear from Australia. Camels, Mammoth, giant bison, giant sloth, and the horse die out across the Americas. A bad smell of extinction follows Homo sapiens around the world. [p.37]
. . . earlier people - Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and early Homo sapiens – had hunted big game without hunting it out. But Upper Palaeolithic people were far better equipped and more numerous than their forerunners, and they killed on a much grander scale. Some of their slaughter sites were almost industrial in size: a thousand mammoths at one; more than 100,000 horses at another. “The Neanderthals were surely able and valiant in the chase,” wrote the anthropologist William Howells in 1960, “but they left no such massive bone yards as this.” And the ecological moral is underlined more recently by Ian Tattersall. “Like us,” he says, “the Cro-Magnons must have had a darker side.” . . . there would be no limit to the white man’s guns that reduced both buffalo and Indian to near extinction in a few decades of the nineteenth century. “The humped herds of buffalo,” wrote Herman Melwille, “not forty years ago, overspread by tens of thousands the prairies of Illinois and Missouri . . . where now the polite broker sells you land at a dollar an inch.” [p.38]
Modern hunter-gatherers – Amazonians, Australian Aboriginals, Inuit, Kalahari “bushmen” – are wise stewards of their ecologies, limiting their own numbers, treading lightly on the land. It is often assumed that ancient hunters would have been equally wise. But archeological evidence does not support this view. Palaeolithic hunting was the mainstream livelihood, done in the richest environment on a seemingly boundless earth. Done, as we have to infer from the profligate remains, with the stock-trader’s optimism that there would always be another big killing just over the next hill. . . The Australian biologist Tim Flannery has called human beings the “future eaters.” Each extermination is a death of possibility. . . the Upper Palaeolithic period, which may well have begun in genocide, ended with an all-you-can-kill wildlife barbecue. The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our movable feasts. [p.39]
The hunters at the end of the Old Stone Age were certainly not clumsy, but they were bad because they broke rule one for any prudent parasite: Don’t kill off your host. . . they drove species after species to extinction . . [p.40]
What purpose did the Genesis Declaration serve?
Near the beginning of this piece I said that I was struck by the fact that what I call the “Genesis Declaration”, consisting of Genesis 1:26-29, is repeated again in Genesis 9:1-3, and that in both instances it is oddly out of place, appearing out of context of the general story line. I suspected that the Declaration had an importance all its own to the author, or authors, of Genesis, and that it was included for a very human, self-serving reason, what I chose to call the qui bono factor. Could it be that the Genesis story had already been completed when the author(s) realized that an essential clause, asserting man’s supreme status on, and ownership of, the Earth, i.e. the Declaration, had been omitted?; and that the author(s) revisited Genesis and hastily inserted the Declaration not just once but twice? I’m only speculating . . .
We know that the vast majority of mankind never have had, and never will have, any pangs of a guilty conscience over killing other living things merely for the sake of killing. How could it be otherwise, seeing that it is frequently an effort for men to feel guilty even over the killing of their own kind. It is by no means a stretch to call the Cro-Magnon and their progeny (that means us), “natural born killers.” As SHP says, “A bad smell of extinction follows Homo sapiens around the world.” [p.37], and in the words of anthropologist Ian Tattersall: “Like us, the Cro-Magnons must have had a darker side.” [p.38]
The one thing the Cro-Magnons did not have to do while wild game was plentiful was to resort to farming. SHP recounts the progression from hunting to primitive farming to large-scale agricultural production, at which point men attained the status of “civilized society.” But, as is recounted in SHP, agricultural civilizations carried within them the seeds of their own eventual demise (I have used Sumer as an example of the many featured in SHP). There was a vicious circle at work in the agricultural civilizations: more food meant a constantly increasing population, which meant a constantly increasing demand for more food, which meant having constantly to increase the acreage under cultivation, which meant razing more and more of the forest cover, which meant increased soil erosion and, (what was definitely of no concern to men), dispossession of wild animals of their natural habitat.
In this the 21st Century, we humans (and here I am including all the billions of the “average” ignorant and unthinking majority of the species) have no more regard and compassion for other living creatures and as little respect for the natural environment as did our ancestors 15,000 years ago. If today the conscience of a few of us is stirring, if today we attempt to establish conservation areas and wild-life sanctuaries, we do so grudgingly and only after much debate and protest by those whose economic interests are at stake. In any case, many times the economic interests prevail in the long run, and, if conservation areas are established, in a few years they again vanish off the map. In the preceding two centuries, men almost eradicated all the whales from the world’s oceans in an orgiastic killing spree. What’s more, we are now well on the way to sweeping our oceans clean of fish and marine mammals and reptiles, species after species, with lethal drift-nets that kill indiscriminately everything in their path.
I will now give my answer to the question of what purpose was served by the Genesis Declaration. It can be argued that, whatever was its purpose, today it can apply only to the “people of the book,” namely, Jews, Christians and Muslims. The “book” is, of course, the Bible, and the three Abrahamic religions all share a common belief in the “truth” of the Genesis story. It can be further argued that at the time of its writing, Genesis and the Bible was the sole property of, and directed specifically to, the Israelites, and no one else. Therefore, the Genesis Declaration, like everything else in the Bible, applies only to the Israelites.
I counter that argument by the following: Genesis 1 begins as a cosmological argument applying to all creation and, by extension, to all men of the species Homo sapiens. As I have already argued above, Moses did not have to have knowledge of his Cro-Magnon ancestors to feel like they did and view the natural world like they did. Inherited genetic traits have a power all their own. Thus, in the oddly-placed Genesis Declaration in Genesis 1, and again in Genesis 9, he is acknowledging the innate nature of man to feel and act like the master of all he surveys. If man should doubt his superiority over the rest of creation; or if he should wonder whether he should try to restrain his insatiable sexual drive; or if he develops twinges of conscience about his callous treatment of other living beings -in every case God reassures man that he is not to worry; he need not change his ways; what he is doing is right and good. Here is the qui bono factor. It can be said that the Genesis declaration merely confirmed what was true of the nature of all men for all time, but there was an extra benefit for the Israelites, and later for Christians and Muslims, in that their God enunciated their rights in direct and unmistakable terms. This fact has now been interwoven in our Western culture for 2000 years. We need not feel guilty about any of this, because, after all, God made us in his own image.
The big question that we face is this: What lies in the future if Homo sapiens does not repudiate the Genesis Declaration as false, but continues to think that he is a God-like master of the Earth.
Not only do we know more about our ancient progenitors than Moses did, but at least a few of us have also reached a more sophisticated understanding of our own nature. With this knowledge in hand we can come up with a reasonable prediction of what will happen in the future. I will let some selections from SHP (with page numbers) and my own GLM essay address it:
The great advantage we have, our best chance for avoiding the fate of past societies, is that we know about those past societies. We can see how and why they went wrong. Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise.[p.132]
The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years. Like all creatures, humans have made their way in the world by trial and error; unlike other creatures, we have a presence so colossal that error is a luxury we can no longer afford. The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes. [p.3]
By breaking the Laws man continues down the road that leads to his eventual perdition. [GLM]
Contrary to the wishful thinking of too many of the human race, God, through his Laws, always administers consequences commensurate with our actions - good or bad - and the consequences are irreversible. They are not negotiable after the fact. [GLM]
Our main difference from chimps and gorillas is that over the last 3 million years or so, we have been shaped less and less by nature and more and more by culture. We have become experimental creatures of our own making.
This experiment has never been tried before. And we, its unwitting authors, have never controlled it. The experiment is now moving very quickly and on a colossal scale. Since the early 1900s, the world’s population has multiplied by four and its economy – by more than forty. We have reached a stage where we must bring the experiment under rational control, and guard against present and potential dangers. [p.30]
Physiologically, we differ little from other higher life forms on Earth. Our only exceptional gift from God is our superior intelligence; our free will whereby to exercise it is a generous dispensation from him. Only by our free will are we in some measure autonomous. With the grant of the superior intelligence man was also granted the capability to understand the functions of the Laws, and the great privilege to comply with the Laws voluntarily. God has thus placed a great trust in us - one could also say that he has taken a risky gamble - that we would exercise our free will intelligently and in accord with the Laws, which demand of us (for our own good!) respect, moderation, kindness and justice toward each other and no less toward the rest of his creation. [GLM]
If we fail – if we blow up or degrade the biosphere so it can no longer sustain us – nature will merely shrug and conclude that letting apes run the laboratory was fun for a while but in the end a bad idea. . . . We have already caused so many extinctions that our dominion over the earth will appear in the fossil record like the impact of an asteroid. [p.31]
Whether one subscribes to the creationist or evolutionary theory, there is more evidence for than there is against the quite reasonable proposition that man has been, so far, an inconclusive, if not a failed, experiment. [GLM]
Perhaps it hardly matters to the endless, eternal domain of God's creation what happens here on one insignificant speck of it that we call the Earth. [GLM]
It is time mankind stops regarding itself as something very special. It is not. [GLM]
. . prehistory, like history, tells us that nice folk didn’t win, that we are at best the heirs of many ruthless victories and at worst the heirs to genocide. We may well be descended from humans who repeatedly exterminated rival humans – culminating in the suspicious death of our Neanderthal cousins some 30,000 years ago. [p.31]
The only contract with God that we know we have for sure . . . obliges us to treat all of God's creation here on Earth according to God's Laws. Homo sapiens continues to break the Laws at the peril of extinction for himself and most other life on Earth. [GLM]
Civilizations have developed many techniques for making the earth produce more food – some sustainable, others not. The lesson I read in the past is this: that the health of land and water – and of woods which are the keepers of water – can be the only lasting basis for any civilization’s survival and success. [p.105]
The collapse of the first civilization on earth, the Sumerian, affected only half a million people. The fall of Rome affected tens of millions. If ours were to fail, it would, of course, bring catastrophe on billions. [p.107]
The invention of agriculture is . . . a runaway train, leading to vastly expanded populations but seldom solving the food problem because of two inevitable (or nearly inevitable) consequences. The first is biological: the population grows until it hits the bounds of the food supply. The second is social: all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures that there can never be enough to go around. [p.108]
Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I call progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. [p.108]
. . human inability to foresee – or to watch out for – long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer. [p.108]
. . despite the wreckage of past civilizations littering the earth, the overall experiment of civilization has continued to spread and grow. The numbers (insofar as they can be estimated) break down as follows: a world population of about 200 million at Rome’s height, in the second century A.D.; about 400 million by 1500, when Europe reached the Americas; one billion people by 1815, at the start of the coal age; 2 billion by 1925, when the Oil Age gets underway; and 6 billion by the year 2000. Even more startling than the growth is the acceleration. Adding 200 million after Rome took thirteen centuries; adding the last 200 million took only three years. [p.109]
If civilization is to survive, it must live on the interest, not the capital, of nature. Ecological markers suggest that in the early 1960s, humans were using about 70 percent of nature’s yearly output; by the early 1980s, we’d reached 100 percent; and in 1999, we were at 125 percent. Such numbers may be imprecise, but their trend is clear – they mark the road to bankruptcy. [p.129]
Self-restraint is the virtue that man is in short supply of – in the most advanced as well as the most primitive of his societies on Earth. [GLM]
I will conclude with a statement by a wise Greek who had no religious motives up his sleeve and no self-interest in mind. Aristotle wrote, c. 350 B.C.E., that, far from being made in God’s image,
Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. (Politics, line 1253a31)
If someone had said to Aristotle that man was made in God’s image, he would most likely have laughed out loud at the suggestion. He believed that only the truly virtuous man had a hope of approaching a divine state, and there were very few such men in the world. But actually, believing that he is god-like is a very serious defect in the psyche of man, which he developed when he began to understand that he was more intelligent than, and could outsmart, all other forms of life on earth.
A final remark: As I am completing this essay, the disastrous flood in New Orleans – a harbinger of another failing civilization – continues. Officialdom has now ordered a forced evacuation of the people who refuse to leave the city of New Orleans voluntarily. However, they are told that they will have to leave their pets behind. Many, if not most (bless them!), of the pet-owners say that there is no way they will leave their pets behind to what would very likely be a most horrible end. At this time the SPCA is trying desperately to persuade the officials that the pets should be evacuated with their owners. The point I want to make is that mankind as a whole still places no intrinsic, moral value on the life of any other animal. The Genesis Declaration is still in effect.
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