16 January 2007

Seeing the Beginning from the End

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 9:46 am

[I keep thinking I’m done with the Genesis book for the time being. I’ve written a book proposal and tightened up the first few chapters of the book, getting ready to contact some agents. Then I find out it’s better to send a smattering of chapters from throughout the book – which means I’ve got to go back and do some more editing on chapters I thought I could leave alone for awhile. Here’s a little bit of new text I wrote last night to fill a gap in the last chapter of the book…]

Believers in the Judeo-Christian God live inside a self-contained reality that describes its own beginning. There may be disagreement on details, but the idea of a creator-God is an essential strand linking the individual with the community, the present with the past, the reader with the text. Did the idea of a divine creator originate in Genesis 1, or is it an a priori intuition that the reader imposes on the text? By now it’s hard to tell. If you watch a movie often enough the opening scene doesn’t just point toward its inevitable end: it contains the end. Your interpretation of the beginning is determined by how you know the story is going to turn out.

Evolutionary science is an empirical study of beginnings. But if we as a species had a different kind of brain – a brain like all the other creatures on our planet, for example – we might never have been able to imagine this particular sort of beginning. If we’d happened to live before Darwin we wouldn’t have been able to imagine it. Was Darwin’s insight inevitable, the product of those very forces he described? Or could some other cultural trajectory have spun itself out, so that we wouldn’t have been able to look back at the creation of evolutionary science as a turning point in our own self-understanding? Are we currently living through a turning point, a historical interval that future generations will look back on as formative but that we can’t even recognize? There’s no way of knowing; we’re stuck in the middle of history. We can’t understand the past until we reach the future.

You look back on your life and distinguish turning points: events that shaped your destiny. But if your life had turned out differently, would those same events have loomed so large in your own genesis story? Do defining moments create you, or do you create them after the fact just to make some sense of how you happened to end up here? You live inside this life and no other, so it’s hard to gain perspective on what might have been.




  1. Dang I found that piece thought provoking.



    Comment by Ivan — 18 January 2007 @ 7:48 am

  2. Thanks. It’s got a bit of that “anthropic principle” feel, doesn’t it? I still haven’t ordered Davies’ book, but I saw it prominently displayed on the Edge website — here’s the link. This is a sort of thinktank that also serves as literary agent for evolution writers like Daniel Dennett, Paul Bloom and Stephen Pinker. I just sent them my book proposal.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 January 2007 @ 10:04 am

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