Saturday, March 16, 2013

In Layman's Terms: On Creation and the Fall of Man

*Quick housekeeping note: as you are well aware, this series has long since ceased being weekly, or even biweekly. For the foreseeable future, therefore, consider it a "when it's done" series. Sorry for the inconvenience. 

           When last we left our story (way back when), God had created the Heavens and the Earth and the high angel, Lucifer, had fallen out of Pride, taking many of the other angels with him and introducing death and decay into the world. Today, we’re going to talk some more about that creation and about the coming of that particularly strange creature, Man. 

            “And God created Man to his own image; to the image of a God He created him; male and female He created them.”
-Genesis 1: 27

            Now, there are four major ‘steps’ in Creation. These are the points where a strictly materialist interpretation of the world breaks down, as ‘natural’ laws as we understand them are wholly inadequate to account for them. Today we’ll be talking about the first three.
            Step One: Nothing to Something

            The first, and most obvious step is the change from non-existence to existence.

Before: No Things

After: Things!
             We talked a little about this in our first post; it is entirely absurd to posit the idea of nothing becoming something through natural laws (even if we allow that natural laws don’t count as ‘something’). As The Sound of Music taught us, nothing can come from nothing. It’s like the old computer joke of wondering how long someone will sit and look at a ‘loading’ screen: no matter how long you sit there, the computer will not just spontaneously start working again. 

No, you didn't, Ted.
            And so the first act of Creation is the change from nothing into something. Or, what might be more accurate to say, the appearance of ‘things not God.’ Since God alone is eternal and absolutely real, the first step beyond that is the creation of things that are not absolutely real; things that are separate from and contingent upon God.
            Here let me point out that Christianity is not Pantheism; we don’t believe that everything is God (somehow). We believe that everything expresses God in some way (as noted earlier), but God alone is God; every creature is distinct from Him, in the same way that a book is distinct from its author or a child is distinct from its father.
            So from ‘nothing’ was brought forth, by some unimaginable means (Fr. Lemaitre called it ‘The Big Bang,’ which is good enough for our purposes), what we call ‘the Universe.’ That is, the matter and energy that we live in and use on a day-to-day basis and which so fascinates us.
Now, what are matter and energy? Well, basically, they are the tools by which we participate in creation. Matter and energy are not the sum total of creation; we perceive within ourselves things that are neither matter nor energy (generally we give them names like ‘spirit’ or ‘personality’). But they are the normal means by which we act. When we wish to communicate with others, we manipulate sound waves to convey meaning. When we wish to harm, we apply energy to other people using bits of matter, such as fists or bullets, as conduits. When we wish to think, we manipulate our brains to form images and concepts in our minds.
Now, that’s an odd point there. A materialist would say that all thought is nothing but synapses firing within the brain in response to stimuli. We would agree that this is indeed thought, but thought cannot be nothing but that, since the question is ‘whence come those stimuli’? That is, we think by making parts of our brain send signals to each other, but what makes it do so? Materialists like to point out that we can stimulate sections of the brain in the laboratory, making people feel happy or sad or think of cheese, but they never seem to ask the question “so what stimulates the brain outside the laboratory?” What force allows us to make our brain shift, at will, from considering the problem of God to the problem of how we’re going to ask out the cute girl behind the Starbucks counter and vice-versa?
We’ll return to this point, but for right now let us acknowledge two things; the first great step of creation is the transition from ‘no universe’ to ‘universe,’ and that while this universe appears to be made up of matter and energy, in our own experience something more is involved, since something allows us to manipulate that matter and energy at will.

Step Two: Non-life to Life

So, the universe is made, with all its beautiful stars and planets and moons and asteroids and quarks and whatever else. But, so far, it’s dead; lifeless. Until, somehow or other, another unimaginable change takes place and life appears on at least one of those planets. 
What is life? Life is when a created thing can somehow contribute to creation; it can alter its position in space, it can manipulate the matter around itself, and it can reproduce itself. Dead matter cannot participate in creation; it can only ‘follow orders,’ so to speak; move when it’s been moved. The Earth was formed not because it was a living thing, but because it basically ‘fell’ into place. Gravity pulled bits of gas and matter together, which in turn had been knocked into place by other bits of matter, and the end result (much like those big balls of clay we all made during art class) was a planet. Living things, on the other hand, are necessarily creative. They can change their environment. They can move without being moved. Most importantly, they can make more living things.
It is this latter capacity that makes life such an overwhelmingly drastic shift in creation. Dead things cannot generate more dead things; a rock cannot make another rock, nor can a cloud of gas produce another cloud of gas. A rock can be split, or melted down and combined with another rock, but it cannot generate a similar rock while remaining more or less as it is. But living things can. And they do this via the mind-bendingly complex substance known as DNA.

Take it away, Mr.Coulton!

Picture a tiny computer composed of four different proteins present in every single unit of life, containing within itself all the information needed to copy the particular composition of matter that comprises this particular creature. Now, the idea that DNA, the Platonic ideal of information storage and transfer that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates combined could never hoped to match, developed solely by accidental chemical reactions is so laughably inadequate that you would make Friar William of Okham (he of the razor) cry just by suggesting it.

            So, life began as nothing more than little single cells, barely large enough to contain their DNA. From there, they slowly grew, over the course of millions of years through some unknown process (call it evolution if you like), first into multi-celluar organisms, then into large, complex structures, and finally into what we call ‘animals:’ those unfathomably complex, active, fertile, and endlessly fascinating bits of life.
            Another major shift (that is on the borderline of needing its own category) was the emergence of sexuality; Male and Female. Life could reproduce itself from the very beginning (that’s part of the definition of life), but sexuality brought something quite new to the table. Here, rather than just copying the DNA of the parent, two sets of DNA are brought together, mixed up, and used to create something unlike either parent. Life, you might say, was branching out; getting creative.
            But there was more, much more. With sexuality came the idea of complementality and cooperation. With sex, creatures were forced to look beyond themselves, to acknowledge (after their own fashion) that they were not and could not be the center of the universe. With sex came the great mystery of the fact that a given species could no longer be represented by only one individual, but instead would always require two. No individual fish could be a complete fish, nor could any individual spider be a complete spider. The totality of any sexual species is only found in the relationship between the sexes. It’s an image of the Trinity; as God is three persons in one, so each sexual species is two distinct beings in one. Thus the interplay of distinction and unity, which is found in the core of existence, where the distinction does not separate and the unity does not subsume, found its expression in life.
            We also see that, in sexual creatures, creation depends on cooperation; neither the male nor the female can create on their own (okay, okay; Parthenogenesis, but even that’s typically just an emergency procedure to re-introduce males into the population). Thus, life could no longer be simply competitive; there had to be some form of giving, of sacrifice, of common-purpose.
In short, with sexuality came the first shadow of love into the world.
Now, don’t think I’m getting anthropomorphic here: this earliest drive to reproduce that sent the little proto-Juliet in proto-Romeo’s arms (er, flagellum) in all likelihood had nothing of commitment or affection to it (indeed, it’s quite possible that proto-Juliet ate proto-Romeo when they were done). My point, though, is that here we had the first instance of something like the self-forgetful openness and gratuity that is found in God. The smallest seed of love had entered the world at last.

And so life continued to grow at a new and faster pace. Fish emerged, and with them came vertebrae. The fish took to land, acquiring the four-limbed, one-headed, two-eyed template that would be copied again and again on practically all land-based vertebrates. The arthropods (bugs) also took to land, and even to the air. The cycle of life and death was in full swing; each individual, each species, and even each class and order would emerge, create offspring through the mystery of sex, and then die, bequeathing the world to their issue, who in turn would repeat the cycle.
In this way emerged the different dynasties: the mighty Gorgonopsids rose and fell. The Dinosaurs took their place, crafted the mightiest and longest empire the world had ever or would ever see, and then in a flash they were gone as well. The Birds, the Dinosaurs’ heirs, briefly strove to take their fathers’ place, but the Mammals, descendents of the Gorgonopsids, who had lain hidden for all the long millennia that the Dinosaurs ruled, rose up and reasserted their dominant place in the world.
And it was from the Mammals that a most curious creature emerged. At first it was nothing more than a modified version of the already-venerable primate family, adapted for life on the plains rather than the trees. Indeed, it seemed like a somewhat ungainly offshoot, doomed to a short life. It was slow compared to most of its predators. It had pathetically small teeth and no claws to speak of, and it was an awkward, gangly thing, running about erect on its hind legs, scavenging from the kills of other predators or hunting for berries and roots in the forest. In short, here was one of those creatures that nature had dealt a poor hand; a being that had managed to slip through the cracks of survival via luck or circumstance, but which would have no staying power, and would soon slip back beneath the waters of extinction, having left nothing but a few bones in the grass.
Then the third shift happened.

Step Three: Animal to Man

This poor creature’s only real weapon was that it had an unusually well-developed brain. It could use rudimentary tools, form simple plans, and, in short, survive by its wits. But then, one day (or it might have been over the course of many days), a change took place. One of these creatures became aware of itself. His eyes were opened. He suddenly showed new powers of understanding and control. Predators would not touch him. Prey animals were unafraid of him. He could see meaning in the world about him, and so began to assign names to things. Things that before had only sent simple signals to his brain (“danger” “food” “drink” “companion” “unknown”) now were seen as things in themselves; things with names (“lion,” “fruit,” “water,” “wife,” “forest”). Most importantly, he could understand himself as an “I;” as a unique individual, as more than just the body.

This scene shows something like what must have taken place.

And for the first time, he truly saw the world around him. Water was not just a source of refreshment, but something beautiful to look at and fun to play in. The forest wasn’t just a place of danger, but a place of adventure and mystery. Perhaps this can best be conveyed by the fact that, for the first time, he looked up. Animals don’t look up unless they think they might see food, or a predator. There’s no other reason for them to. But this creature looked up and he beheld the stars and the moon above him. Who can imagine, what pen or tongue could tell of his amazement, of his wonder at what he saw? How can we begin to dream of what that first day was like when he first experienced beauty, and so became Man?
Now, we don’t know whether this shift happened in only one individual or in a community (though virtually every account of the event has it happen to only one at first), but the important thing is that it took place. An animal had crossed the immeasurable gulf and become Man.
Assuming that it was only one individual at first, he (let’s call him ‘Adam’) was quickly joined by another, this one a female (‘Eve’). When this happened, the seed of love that had been planted when the very first protozoa had become sexual beings finally blossomed into full flower. Sex had come a long way since then; in its highest forms it had grown to include monogamy, affection, and sacrificial impulses. But only now, with the coming of Man, could it truly take on its full meaning. Now that Adam had become conscious of himself as an “I,” he could be fully conscious of Eve as also a “you.” Now he could see her as she was; a mystery as infinite as himself, which he could spend eternity attempting to comprehend.
For there was one more aspect of Man’s awakening; he became aware of God. Adam and Eve were intimately and uniquely connected with God; they could discern His presence wherever they were, they could ‘hear’ Him speaking to them, and most important of all they were keenly aware of His will and perfectly inclined to follow it.
A couple more points about Adam and Eve. Their initial state was much different from anything we have ever experienced. What we experience is a perpetual struggle between our animal instincts and our higher, more spiritual nature. Now, I want to be clear: the point is not that our animal instincts are evil, and our spiritual nature is good. Either can be turned to good, and either can draw us into evil. The point is that they are in conflict; our animal instincts draw us to pleasure, food, sex, and so forth, while our spiritual nature encourages us to reason, contemplation, understanding etc. In Adam and Eve, the higher nature was in complete control and the animal instincts were directed by the reason. So, while their instincts remained, they were always directed toward rational ends and they were never overwhelmed by passion or cravings into overindulgence. This is why, in Genesis, it describes them as being “Naked without shame.” (Genesis 2: 25). They were in such control of their passions that they were never even tempted to see each other as anything less than what they were, and, as such, had no temptation to lust.
Another element in their original state was that they had much more power over nature than we do. Obviously, we don’t know exactly what the extent of these powers were, but from evidence found among the Saints I think we can gather a rough idea. For instance, we can suppose that, among other things, Adam and Eve never got sick, they could communicate to some extent with the animals, and they probably could fly.
I spoke earlier about the great mystery of will, of the ability of the soul to act on the body, of spirit to move matter, as seen in the human brain. Well, in Adam and Eve this capacity of the soul to move matter extended beyond their brains to the rest of their bodies, allowing them much greater freedom of movement and action than we enjoy, along with greater awareness and presence within their bodies. To put it bluntly, they experienced things in a much more intense manner than we do (and yes, that means exactly what you think it means).
Finally, Adam and Eve’s bodies were free from the death and decay that had plagued the world since its creation. They never got sick, they never got injured, and they would never know mortal death. As for what would have happened at the end of their time on Earth, we can only guess, but I believe that they would have met the same fate as Mary or Elijah; when their Earthly time was ended, they would have been assumed, body and soul, into Heaven.
But, as you probably guessed, they never got that far. We don’t know how long it was that they enjoyed this state, nor what precisely led to their fall from it. Genesis, of course, tells the famous story of the tree of the forbidden fruit, and the tempting Serpent, but I think we can call that more allegorical than literal. In any case, Satan was still at work in the world, as he had been from the beginning, and he set to work on Man. However it happened, he managed to tempt Adam and Eve into going against God’s will, which, again, they knew and were inclined to follow. They were tested, and thanks to the Devil’s influence, they failed the test.
It was the Second Great Fall. Just as the Devil’s fall threw the whole of creation out of synch, so Adam and Eve’s had equally drastic consequences. Their two natures were ‘jarred loose’ you might say, the animal from the spiritual, so that they were no longer in accord and it would take massive effort to achieve even a semblance of the unity they enjoyed before. With this their animal natures could run rampant, unrestrained by reason, and their spiritual natures could likewise conceive of pride and envy, despising both the lower instincts and worshiping the “I” without perceiving the “you.” In other words, they now knew good and evil, having before only known good.
 Their souls lost all power over their bodies, save for their brains, and so death and decay in the form of illness and injury were able to enter their bodies. The microbes, kept at bay by their perfectly controlled wills, broke in and began to infect them. Their understanding with the animals was severed.
In short, Adam and Eve became as we are now. Their natures were broken and corrupted. For the first time, sin; the corruptive force that drove the angels out of heaven, had entered the world. Death had been a part of the world from the beginning, but without rational beings – without Man – sin could not exist. Now, with Man’s fall, the world knew sin.
As for what, exactly, caused this fall, we honestly don’t know. It might very well have been a tree they were forbidden to eat from. The Devil’s lie “Thou shalt be like God” almost certainly is more or less verbatim, as that same lie has troubled us ever since. The thing to take away is that Adam and Eve were told that they could make themselves like God by disobeying Him, and, unfortunately for us, they believed it.
And so Adam and Eve were ‘thrown out of the Garden,’ so to speak. By choosing to reject God, they lost the unique experience of Him they had enjoyed. Now, bereft of the unique control over their bodies and their passions, they had to make their own way in the world and survive more or less in the same way their animal ancestors had, only with the added bitterness of remembering what they had lost and the added comfort of what remained.
For Adam and Eve were not wholly corrupted. They retained their knowledge of God, their awareness of beauty, and their ability to love: all broken and imperfect, of course, but still real and still able to inspire them. Moreover, God had inscribed a promise on their hearts; that He had not abandoned them, and that He would one day redeem them from the state they had fallen into.

Up next: Man Ascendant. 

Vive Christus Rex!

No comments:

Post a Comment