The Creation Order of Genesis

The discovery of the Higgs boson brought forth a fresh crop of high-minded religious apologists to favor us with platitudes about how science and religion can be reconciled, if only we "extremists" would stop fighting about it all the time. Here's one of them I came across the other week, who asserts that the creation order given in Genesis contains a hidden correspondence with the picture of life's evolutionary history assembled by scientists. As always, he has to phrase it in insufferably lofty and superior language implying that he's the first person to have ever thought of this:


Do you honestly believe that it is coincidence that the creation account in Genesis actually follows a similar progression order to the widely accepted evolution model? Is it coincidental that Genesis clearly spells out life originating in the sea, then on land, and only then birds are mentioned?

Does this not correspond with the progression of life from ocean based organisms, through to amphibians, and eventually to birds and mammals as portrayed by the evolutionists?

Does it, now? Let's examine the Genesis 1 creation story in greater detail and see if it corresponds with the actual order of appearance in the fossil record. For purposes of this post, I'll leave out the contradictory account in Genesis 2, which actually has human beings being created first, before any other animal.

According to Genesis 1, after some preliminary firmament-creating and water-separating, on the third day God creates the Earth, and the first living things he places upon it are flowering plants. "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so." (1:11)

But this is wrong. The first plants to appear on the Earth were not the flowering plants, which includes all true grasses and all plants that bear fruit which contains seeds (the scientific name for this group is angiosperms). On the contrary, the first angiosperms appear in the fossil record much later on, only 140 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. For hundreds of millions of years before that, the Earth was dominated by other kinds of plants not mentioned in the Genesis account: mosses, ferns, and a different kind of plants, the gymnosperms, which do not bear seed-containing fruit and are represented today mainly by conifers and cycads.

On the fourth day, God creates the sun, moon and stars. I won't belabor the point, but obviously the sun and other stars existed long before the Earth, and our moon predates all modern life. It would have to, since the prevailing hypothesis is that it was created by a gigantic impact that would have melted the Earth down to the crust, sterilizing any life that existed beforehand.

Next, on the fifth day, God creates all aquatic life (including the "great whales") and all birds ("every winged fowl after his kind"). Again, this is wrong, and not just because the writer erroneously claims that Genesis depicts birds as appearing after land animals. Although fish did arise before land life, whales and dolphins are latecomers to the oceans. Like all mammals, they only arose after the dinosaurs had fallen, opening up new niches for other species to diversify into. The same is true of birds: they're not as ancient a lineage as fish, but a new and late-arising branch on the tree of life, descended from one group of dinosaurs that survived the great K-T extinction 65 million years ago.

Finally, on the sixth day, God creates land animals, insects ("every thing that creepeth upon the earth"), and human beings. This, too, is wrong in several ways. Unlike birds and whales, insects are truly an ancient lineage: the earliest known insect fossil is about 400 million years old, and the oldest insects of all are likely even earlier. And of course, "land animals" is a huge group, many species of which predate human beings by enormous time intervals (particularly if we take this group to include dinosaurs, as the creationists do).

Far from paralleling the geologic record, the Genesis story gets it wrong on every detail. If the creation order of Genesis followed the order of appearance of major groups of multicellular life, it would have begun with simple, non-vascular plants like moss and algae, followed by fish and insects, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals and flowering plants, birds, whales, and finally human beings. (Here's a good reference for the evolutionary timeline.)

This doesn't mean that progressive, scientifically minded Christians are forbidden to interpret the Genesis account as a parable for the gradual emergence of life over the eons, if they so choose. But it does mean they must abandon the pretense that the Genesis account contains any sliver of real scientific accuracy, or any hint of knowledge that wouldn't have been available to the nomadic Iron Age herdsmen who wrote it. (The same is true of the rest of the Bible.) It's based on mythology, folklore and tribal superstition, and nothing besides.

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In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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