Thursday, May 29, 2014

Searching For Adam

     As we look at the history of the world, in terms of secular evidence, where does Adam fit in? I don’t know. It’s quite a puzzle. But here are a few observations and thoughts which might just be pieces of that puzzle. 

A Simple Observation

     Recently, I ran across this verse of scripture:
Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them. 
(Helaman 8:18, emphasis added)
     I had never previously considered the significance of those words: "a great many thousand years."
     This could mean a very large number of years, potentially.
     At first, the idea may seem to contradict other scripture. For instance, some readers may wonder how this squares with D&C 77:6, so I want to take a moment to suggest Jeff Lindsay's excellent post which sheds light on that verse of scripture, and also this FairMormon article.  
     And, of course, I realize the scriptures give us some genealogy concerning who begat who, but this could easily be a record of notable names rather than every descendant. For instance, I am a "son of Abraham," yet Abraham lived 4,000 years ago. The New Testament starts out in Matthew with the words, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Or, in reverse it could be said, "Abraham begat David, David begat Jesus Christ." I realize the Bible says that specific people lived certain numbers of years and begat other specific persons. But in light of the fact that we may say David begat Jesus, it may just be the case that at a certain age a particular named person in the Bible begat the lineage from which their said descendant came. For instance, we might ask at what age David begat Jesus. The answer would be the age at which David begat Solomon, from whom Jesus came. This might not seem to be appropriate terminology in modern-day English, but then again it also would not "seem" appropriate to us today to say that Jesus was the son of David, or that David was the son of Abraham, and thus to omit everyone in-between. So it would be very hasty for us to assume that the Bible is telling us that a person was born at or even close to the time they are listed as being "begat."
     For those interested in a more thorough treatment of this issue, including what we are to understand by the word "begat" (the Hebrew word, "yalad"), click here. For information on the Hebrew word, "ben," click here.
     What all this means to me is that we are not obligated to assume that Adam and Eve lived only a few thousand years ago.
A Second Observation

     Consider this study from Indiana University. 
     From the Science Daily article:
The researchers, using quantitative methods focused on the shape of dental fossils, find that none of the usual suspects fits the expected profile of an ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. 
     In other words, the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans has not yet been discovered - which I find quite remarkable, considering that thousands of other pre-human hominid fossils have been discovered, being classified into about 20 species. Fossils millions of years old are being discovered on a regular basis, as well as over 400 recent Neanderthal specimens, yet there seem to be no remains that can quite fit in as a common ancestor of Neanderthal and modern human (It should be noted that Neanderthals and modern humans are not necessarily separate species).
Third Observation

     Of all the pre-human hominid species that have been discovered, not a single one of their thousands of fossils have been found in the Americas. This is not surprising to scientists, but I do find it interesting in the context of the gospel. 
     America seems to have always been a special place, preserved for those who God brings here - for instance, the Nephites, the Mulekites, the Jaredites, Columbus, and potentially many others we don't know about yet.   
     America is also where the Garden of Eden was, as well as Adam-Ondi-Ahman, according to Joseph Smith, which naturally raises the question of why we don't find fossils of the men and women who lived at the time. 
     So, we have two groups of people whose fossils aren't showing up: the group from whom modern man and Neanderthals descended (see second observation, above), and the group who first descended from Adam.

Fourth Observation

     Before Noah, men lived to almost a thousand years. After Noah, the age to which men lived gradually declined, i.e. Noah = 950 years, Shem = 600, Arphaxad = 438, Peleg = 239, Abraham = 175, etc.
     This is one of those facts we might tend to skip over or take for granted. But there has to be an explanation. Why did they live so long, and what changed after Noah? It seems likely to me that people's bodies changed.
     We know that Adam's body changed. In the garden, his body was immortal - until he partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. My understanding - based on comments from church leaders - is that Adam first had a body of flesh and bone, with no need for blood. After the fall, "blood became the life of the body instead of spirit" (Joseph Fielding Smith, 1/14/1961). Yet, even though blood is the "life of the body," it "has in it the seeds of death."
     What could these things mean? Well, first let's take Joseph Fielding Smith's reference to spirit being the life of the body before the fall. It sounds to me like he's saying the body was a perfect extension of the spirit, and that the particles in the body obeyed Adam, according to spiritual principles. But after Adam transgressed, his body was no longer subject to him but was instead subject to lower laws which govern this telestial sphere (i.e. physics, chemistry, etc.). So, instead of controlling his body on principles of spirit, Adam controlled his body on principles of metabolism. It's like the difference between moving a mountain through faith, and moving a mountain with a shovel. And, blood literally "carries" the ingredients of metabolism - that is its sole job.
     That's how I visualize what Joseph Fielding Smith was saying.
     My understanding is that Jesus inherited from his earthly mother the ability to die, and from his Heavenly Father the ability to live forever. In other words, Jesus had a body that was subject to him spiritually, but it also had the mechanics of a mortal body, so he could choose to let it die according to the mechanics of mortality, and then take it again through exercising his dominion over it spiritually. 
     I don't know that an immortal body necessarily has to have DNA or even cells. DNA is a blueprint for the metabolism of the body, with instructions for making the enzymes which carry out that metabolism. I think it's possible that the job of the forbidden fruit was to infuse Adam with enzymes, and DNA, which would temporarily sustain him in his mortal state. Accordingly, it began changing his body from the inside out.
     So now we return to the questions of why people lived so long, why they didn't leave fossils and what began to change after Noah.
Fifth Observation

          According to the Popol Vuh, an ancient Mayan religious text, people who lived before the flood were made out of wood. I realize that’s an odd claim, and easily dismissed by more “enlightened” people of today. But why not entertain the idea? What could it mean? Perhaps it could mean that the skeletal structure of Adam and his children prior to the flood was based on cellulose rather than calcium.
     In other words, maybe the reason Adam and his children lived so long is that their cells were more like those of plants. After all, we share a lot of DNA with plants. And much of what makes us who we are, physically, is not just our DNA but how that DNA is activated. Certain segments can be turned “on” and “off,” resulting in very different features. Of course, the features I’m referring to would be at a cellular level – i.e. I’m not saying people had branches instead of arms or anything of that sort.
     Moreover, it was a plant that Adam ate from which caused the changes to occur in his body – think about that for a moment - the *fruit* of a *tree* caused his body to change.
     In addition to possibly explaining why Adam’s children before the flood lived so long, this could also help explain why they did not leave fossilized bones, at least not what we would recognize as such if we were to come across them.
Sixth Observation

     A certain aphid species derives colors from genes it received from a different species, through a process called horizontal (or "lateral") transfer. In fact, the aphid absorbed the gene from a fungus, and incorporated that gene into its own DNA. Although horizontal transfer is more common between single cells, it does happen between animals.
     Humans and chimpanzees have very similar DNA and this is generally explained with the idea of a common ancestor.
     However, when we enter God into the equation, things get more complicated. God’s ways are not our ways, and we need to keep an open mind.
     At first this may sound like too strange of an idea, but what if chimpanzees and hominids, like australopithecines, did have a common ancestor with each other, but Noah’s children acquired that DNA not through common ancestry but through horizontal transfer? The idea is simple. God created, through evolution, and preserved a hominid species whose DNA was intended to be shared in part with Noah’s children. The purpose of the DNA was perhaps, in part, to shorten their lifespan.
     I am not saying such a great amount of horizontal transfer would be likely to happen on its own. But I mean to imply that God could have easily prepared for that DNA to be waiting in the Eastern hemisphere, and for that horizontal transfer to occur as a means of gradually decreasing the human lifespan. For instance, in their original states the bodies of the children of Noah may have been particularly susceptible to the DNA they would have encountered from the hominids they encountered in the context of my scenario. For instance, the cells of their bodies may have had a degree of electroporation which would have made them vulnerable to transfection. This is a method used in genetic engineering today, which allows us to transfer DNA from one species to another. If we can do it, God can certainly do it too. Plausibility is not an issue. It's just a matter of us getting over our own preconceived notions of how life works, and accepting the implications of surprising discoveries like the aphid example above. In my scenario, the longer Noah’s seed was exposed to the hominids, the more of their DNA his seed acquired and the shorter their lifespan became. Eventually, the hominids died out but Noah’s children continued living, thus creating the illusion that the seed of Noah descended from the hominids, and the reason why we have so much DNA in common with chimpanzees (of course, we also have a great deal of DNA in common with all other animals).
Seventh Observation

     We don’t know when the flood took place. But we shouldn’t assume that the only living creatures which survived were aboard the ark. After all, it is implied that fish survived – so why couldn’t other species have also been preserved, outside the ark?
     Perhaps the purpose of bringing animal species aboard the ark was to allow Noah to transplant the animals from America (where Adam’s family had lived) to the Eastern Hemisphere (which perhaps had been unknown to Adam’s family). The animals which were native to the Eastern Hemisphere would not have needed to be aboard the ark, but could instead have been preserved by God in their land of origin. The hominids would have been among such animals.
     I realize that the idea of a literal Biblical flood has caused a great deal of debate among geologists. My answer to any discrepancies between a massive flood and the geological record is that the flood may have happened during an ice age, when most of the earth was covered in ice. In such a scenario, the entire earth
may have flooded and we would not necessarily see signs of it on the rocky surface today, since the surface of the earth would have been protected from effects of the flood by the ice which covered it.

What This Means

     None of this is intended to prove anything. It is, rather, intended to spur thought. And, hopefully, serve as a reminder that there are a great many things we don't know. 

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