Snake picture: Concerning Serpents, Popular Science Monthly, January 1847

Science fans and people who study the Bible will certainly continue to debate evolution vs. creation for years to come, but for me the question is moot. As a syncretist, when I read those Bible verses in Genesis 1, I see them as a very early theory of evolution.

The progression is clear: On the third day, there is “vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on earth, bearing fruit with their seed inside, each corresponding to its own species.” On the fifth day, the waters are “alive with a swarm of living creatures,” and birds begin winging their way above the earth. On the sixth day, God makes wild animals, cattle, “and every creature that crawls along the earth in its own species,” concluding with “man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves.”

The Genesis 1 creation story is a theory of evolution. Sure, it’s a sketchy one, compressed for oral transmission before ever being written down, But still, it’s pretty astounding, considering the thousands of years by which it preceded Charles Darwin. Did these ancient storytellers simply intuit this evolutionary progression — or did they know something?

Of course, there’s also a second (and actually much older) creation story in the Bible. This would be the “Garden of Eden” story which begins at Genesis 2:4b. In this second creation story, Yahweh God creates man first, from the soil. Only after this does he fashion “all the wild animals and all the birds of heaven.” Then he asks the man to name them.

The very first animal specified in this story — right after Yahweh God fashions and man names Woman — is the snake (“serpent” in the King James Bible), which promptly persuades the woman to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she in turn gives some to her husband.

When Yahweh God discovers that they have eaten the forbidden fruit — and that the snake tempted them into doing so — he immediately curses the snake:

Accursed be you
of all animals wild and tame!
On your belly you will go
and on dust you will feed
as long as you live.

The New Jerusalem Bible, Genesis 3:14

Curiously, nothing is mentioned about the snake’s previous method of locomotion. Genesis doesn’t say how the snake had been getting around before — only that it is cursed to go on its belly henceforth.

A couple of days ago, though, this LiveScience story caught my eye:

X-rays Reveal Ancient Snake’s Hidden Leg

It seems that a 95-million-year-old fossil of a snake, found in Lebanon, has undergone 3D scanning which revealed two tiny, lizard-like leg bones attached to the snake’s pelvis:

The fossil, found in Lebanon, is from an era when snakes had not yet completely lost the hind limbs left by their lizard ancestors. A much-debated question among paleontologists is whether these leggy ancestors were ocean-living swimmers or land-dwelling burrowing lizards.

That question can’t be answered by this one 3D scan, but for me the research amplifies the earlier one about evolution in Genesis: Did the Bible’s authors simply intuit that the snake didn’t always slither on its belly — or did they know something?

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