On Reading “A Psalm for a New Human Species”

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September 19, 2010 Tags: Human Origins, Image of God

Today's entry was written by Mark Sprinkle. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

On Reading “A Psalm for a New Human Species”

When reading Psalm 8 it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that the message at its center—concerning mankind’s “being made a little lower than the heavenly beings” and our dominion over creation—is actually at its heart, and easy to think that the point is our elevated position, itself, rather than the fact that we hold it by the unmerited and astonishing grace of the Father who truly sits upon the throne of creation. But the framing “Oh, Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” is what encompasses and surpasses all that comes within, drawing out the necessity of humility (even in our dominion) at having been appointed to this place according to God’s good pleasure, rather than our worthiness.

Indeed, when considering how evolutionary accounts of human origins and our relationship with the rest of creation complement the biblical witness and deepen our theology and life of worship, this point comes to the fore: that recognizing our contiguousness with the rest of the animal world is not an affront to God, but is rather His gift to us — a spiritually beneficial affront to human pride in our own “specialness,” if that term is understood as anything other than God’s free gift and challenge. Ultimately, the imago Dei is not a characteristic, but His continuing presence with us and His continuing desire for us to be about the hard, sacrificial work of bringing His kingdom to bear on the world.

There is more than an echo of these thoughts about the way divine priorities upend our sense of the natural order in Kathleen L. Housley’s poem below. As the editors of Image put it when she was that journal’s Artist of the Month in November 2007, Housley writes “[w]ith acute, scientific exactness, her poems teach[ing] us a delight in the creation, in its multiplicity and surprise. A patient teacher, Housley leads us to the pleasure of the concrete and specific. Birds, animals, reptiles, humans: the poems offer a taxonomy of creation that is at once tender and wise, and a care for the life and nuance of speech that is both urgent and long-sighted.” Here, she wonders with and for us about the nature of our own vaunted uniqueness, marked as much by our rejection of the Creator as by our ability to worship Him. May we consider her words and be humbled as we tread the long path from our lost Eden towards the New Jerusalem.

Psalm for a New Human Species

By Kathleen L. Housley

What was Homo floresiensis
that you were mindful of her,
walking upright in the shadow
of a volcano on the third island
east of Bali, a mere 18,000 years ago,
if electron spin resonance and
radiocarbon luminescence be true?
Was your name majestic
in the rainforest’s green depth
when you gave her kind dominion
over your peculiar menagerie:
pygmy elephants, komodo dragons,
giant tortoises, and strange fauna
drifting eastward on the sea’s paths
to create new Edens where wombats
gestated their young in pouches,
and honeyeaters whistled staccato?

If, as it is written, you made man
but a little lower than the angels,
putting all things beneath his feet,
what do you want me, Homo sapiens,
to do with her—my little sister,
barely a meter tall, whose soft bones
were found in a limestone cave
covered by volcanic ash? I thought
my brawling-sprawling forebears
were the last Homo species standing.
But now, like a lovechild from your
wilder youth, she appears, offering
proof of kinship based on brain size,
the morphology of her wrist bones,
compelling me to wonder: what
immutable transgression locked
her kind into paradise, and mine out.


Mark Sprinkle is an artist and cultural historian, and was formerly Senior Web Editor and Senior Fellow of Arts and Humanities for The BioLogos Foundation. A phi beta kappa graduate of Georgetown University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William and Mary, where he studied how artworks embody complex relationships in different cultural contexts. Since 1996 he has been an independent artist and frame-maker, also regularly writing and speaking on the role of creative practices in cultural mediation and renewal, especially in the area of science and Christian faith. Mark and his wife Beth home-schooled their three boys, and are active in the local home-school community in Richmond, Virginia.


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conrad - #30800

September 19th 2010

Well Homo florensies did no eat of the tree of knowledge and begin the upper paleolithic revolution.

And in retrospect we probably should not have done it either.


Bob R. - #30806

September 19th 2010

In this post we have an interesting combination of poetry, science, and theology. The last line of the poem has embedded in it an important set of theological questions that so far, in my opinion, have not been answered very well by those who believe in theistic evolution.
 
    “What immutable transgression locked her kind into paradise, and mine out.”

I will leave it up to the rest of you to flush out the questions and start the thread. Very likely they will be the same questions that came to my mind when I read the post.


conrad - #30807

September 19th 2010

And Mark, “evolutionary accounts of human origins” really do not really explain man’s sudden mastery of technology.

Something happened and I think the Adam story is telling us what it was.

  God took old earth genes [dust of the earth],.. gve it the “breath of life”,.....[what was that?],.... an then WE DECIDED to embark on technology,  AND FIERCE COMPETION WITH EACH OTHER. e.g. CAIN VS. ABLE.

But some sort of new creature was created within the past 100,000 years.
This was NOT slow evolution.

And with our reliance on ever better technology we must work harder constantly.

Those who scoff at Genesis 2 should be reflecting on it more deeply.


Mark Sprinkle - #30830

September 19th 2010

Dear Bob R.—

I think you are precisely right that the entire poem turns on that last line: it contains a subtle shift from/addition to the usual formulation of us being “locked out”  on account of our sin (which is certainly the case) that makes it difficult for anyone to give a satisfactory, unequivocal answer, be they theistic evolutionists or not.  That is, by noting that Floresiensis was locked “into” her exotic island paradise, it suggests that she was also not offered the kind of complicated relationship of sin and redemption that we have with the Father—a relationship marked by both the most abased and willful rejection of His love and the most world-transforming and reconciling embrace of it, modeled and empowered by the Son and the Spirit.  In other words, it brings up the somewhat tired question of whether sin was somehow “necessary” in order for us to understand and embrace the self-sacrificial love that God pours out on us, his favored creatures.  I think that is not something that can be answered at all, really, for the point is not whether God could have done it “some other way,” but that He has given us a very clear model of the new Way.  And for that I hope we can together praise Him. 
Peace,
Mark


Mark Sprinkle - #30875

September 20th 2010

Conrad—
Thanks for your comments, too.  You are right that evolutionary accounts of human origins don’t “explain” man’s mastery of technology (or even simple tools) or a great many other key things about what it means to be fully human.  That is a central tenet of the people who support the BioLogos project—that scientific knowledge and imagination can help us understand a great many things about Creation and our place in it (cosmology, common descent, etc.), but that they can not tell us everything, or the most important things, about what it means to be made in God’s image and for His purposes; and further, that evolution and other scientific explanations of natural processes do not and should not be taken to represent barriers to belief in the creative and redemptive work of the Lord, whether in the cosmos or in the individual human heart.  I’m not quite sure I follow your description of the relationship between technology and competition and the Fall, but I agree that God did a radical work or creation in the Garden, just as he is now every day making radically new creatures by the power of his Spirit.  To be evangelical is to believe in that power, to experience it, and to offer it to our brothers and sisters in love.


conrad - #30881

September 20th 2010

Mark, I generally agree with that.

The Bible generally gives a CORRECT account.

I read the new Hawking book.
The message is that God is NOT active in the universe.

Hawking says the first event in creation of our universe was merely a “quantum event”.

BUT THOSE ARE THE MOST MYSTERIOUS EVENTS OF ALL.

I think,... THAT IS GOD AT WORK.!!!

I love Einstein’s statement,“coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous!”.

And chance, unpredictable “quantum events” seem to determine everything.
I think God determines the quantum events.


Karl A - #30924

September 20th 2010

Mark, I really resonate with your post, the poem and the questions they raise and the humility they engender.  I especially like the sentence, “Ultimately, the imago Dei is not a characteristic, but His continuing presence with us and His continuing desire for us to be about the hard, sacrificial work of bringing His kingdom to bear on the world.”  Keep blessing the Body!


Mark Sprinkle - #31036

September 20th 2010

Dear Conrad—

I tend very much to agree that our quantum models of the physical universe give us a window into the mystery of God and His workings in and through His creation—indeed I’ll be writing/posting sometime in the semi-near future precisely about the importance of recognizing and embracing the mystery, even the subjectivity inherent in any and all of our knowledge.  But I think part of that is being careful not to make the jump from what we know (and what scripture proclaims) to what we can “prove” in modern rationalist terms; being humble and gentle in our speech and even in our thinking allows space for the Spirit to work in the minds and hearts of those with whom we’re speaking, arguing—but also, critically in us, too.  Hence, poetry—speech that is formal, deep, and deliberately imprecise, yet helps us come at the most profound truths obliquely, delighting in the way they sing. 

As for Hawking and the multiverse theories (and not to flippantly dismiss them, either) even if they were true, the other cosmic bubbles would be irrelevant to the call of Christ on His people in the here and now. To paraphrase Richard Wilbur, Love calls us to the things of THIS world.

Karl A.—Thank you.

—Mark


conrad - #31217

September 21st 2010

Well yeah but the world plays rougher games.

Believers are accused of being idiots and young people are turned off by the fear that believing in God brands them as idiots.
Hawking and Mlodinow say flatly the universe is deterministic.
  BUT,...... Correlating science and the Bible can be done and should be done.

But I like poetry too.

AND,..... I like singing truths. [I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I delight in them,.... but,... I sort of like them.]

But we need to defend our faith .


RG - #31229

September 21st 2010

“The last line of the poem has embedded in it an important set of theological questions that so far, in my opinion, have not been answered very well by those who believe in theistic evolution. “

Erm, Unconditional Election, anyone?


sy - #31390

September 22nd 2010

Mark

I agree with your comment about the advantages of the ambiguity of poetry in the expression of deep truths. For example that critical last line

“compelling me to wonder: what
immutable transgression locked
her kind into paradise, and mine out.”

is interesting since it uses transgression in the singular, and is unclear as to who exactly transgresses, us, or them. Perhaps the poet is not referring to original that locked us out, but to some even worse transgression that locked the “others” in, and therefore doomed them to eventual extinction. I dont know if this is correct, but it does reflect back on the concept that human sin, the Fall and exile from the Garden might have all been part of God’s plan for his chosen creatures.


Martin Rizley - #33174

October 3rd 2010

This poem suggests that ‘homo floriesienus’ was a different species than ‘homo sapiens.’ But the latest studies indicate that the so-called hobbit fossils of Indonesia do not represent a new species of human, but were iodine-deficient human beings suffering from endemic dwarf cretinism.  They were fully human; simply iodine deficient.  Charles Oxnard of the University of Western Australia, using statistical methods, recently confirmed this hypothesis by comparing the bones of cretins in relation to chimpanzees, unaffected humans and homo florensiensis.  His work showed that the skeletal remains of h. floriensiensus were not a distinct species, but rather iodine-deficient humans. “This is consistent with recent hypothyroid endemic cretinism throughout Indonesia, including the nearby island of Bali,” Professor Oxnard said. “Cretinism is caused by various environmental factors including iodine deficiency—a deficiency which would have been present on Flores at the period to which the dwarfed Flores fossils are dated.”  So these fossils provide no evidence of an evolutionary relationship between our species and an earlier, sister species, innocent of sin, from whom we are descended.


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