In this program we explore some creation stories from around the world, which we  then link to a discussion of Evolution, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Darwin, through a conversation with CSU professor Chris Ivey.

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A Creation Story from the Hopi People:

The world at first was endless space in which existed only the Creator, Taiow . This world had no time, no shape, and no life, except in the mind of the Creator. Eventually the infinite creator created the finite in Sotuknang, whom he called his nephew and whom he created as his agent to establish nine universes. Sotuknang gathered together matter from the endless space to make the nine solid worlds. Then the Creator instructed him to gather together the waters from the endless space and place them on these worlds to make land and sea. When Sotuknang had done that, the Creator instructed him to gather together air to make winds and breezes on these worlds.

The Creator [then] charged [his nephew] Sotuknang [with] creation of life. Sotuknang went to the world that was to first host life and there he created Spider Woman, and he gave her the power to create life. First Spider Woman took some earth and mixed it with saliva to make two beings. Over them she sang the Creation Song, and they came to life. She instructed one of them, Poqanghoya, to go across the earth and solidify it. She instructed the other, Palongawhoya, to send out sound to resonate through the earth, so that the earth vibrated with the energy of the Creator. Poqanghoya and Palongawhoya were despatched to the poles of the earth to keep it rotating. Then Spider Woman made all the plants, the flowers, the bushes, and the trees. Likewise she made the birds and animals, again using earth and singing the Creation Song. When all this was done, she made human beings, using yellow, red, white, and black earth mixed with her saliva. Singing the Creation Song, she made four men, and then in her own form she made four women. At first they had a soft spot in their foreheads, and although it solidified, it left a space through which they could hear the voice of Sotuknang and their Creator. Because these people could not speak, Spider Woman called on Sotuknang, who gave them four languages. His only instructions were for them to respect their Creator and to live in harmony with him. These people spread across the earth and multiplied. Despite their [differing] languages, in those days they could understand each other’s thoughts anyway, and for many years they and the animals lived together as one. Eventually, however, they began to divide, both the people from the animals and the people from each other, as they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. As division and suspicion became more widespread, only a few people from each of the four groups still remembered their Creator. [Thus the Hopi story explains the differentiation among species.   The Hopi story also has a version of the fall from grace, for as people forgot the creator were reduced to the existence of ants and the world was destroyed by both fire and ice. The story concludes:] The Hopi trekked and far and wide, and went through the cold and icy country to the north before finally settling in the arid lands between the Colorado River and Rio Grande River. They chose that place so that the hardship of their life would always remind them of their dependence on, and link to, their Creator.

The Creation According to Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  […] And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and […] And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 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. […] And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. […] And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

The Origin of Species According to Darwin:

As this whole volume is one long argument, it may be convenient to the reader to have the leading facts and inferences briefly recapitulated. […] Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected…by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor. Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely,–that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind,–that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable, –and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.

Our Conversation with Chris Ivey:  Chris Ivey teaches  Biology at Chico State. He is a graduate of Evergreen State University in Washington and has his doctorate from the University of Georgia. Chris led the campus and community wide celebration of Darwin’s Birthday this past week.

  • So how did the celebration go? What kind of student and community interest did you see in Darwin and the theory of evolution?
  • In many ways, Darwin’s work has suffered from bumper sticker thinking, “Survival of the Fittest,” Man Descended from the Monkeys, even Social Darwinist oversimplifications that “Might Makes Right” or Hitler’s plan to exterminate some races. What do you see as the “real message” in the Origin of Species? (We realize we’re asking you to compose bumper stickers here.)
  • Farmers have hybridized crops for favorable characteristics for generations. But a great many people and countries object to “genetic engineering,” most dramatically Monsanto’s “Roundup Proof” crops. How do hybridization and genetic engineering fit into the evolutionary pattern?
  • One reads these days about “co-evolution” or Baldwinian evolution, where a culture or environment can shape evolutionary development. In the Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan makes the case that plants like tulips, potatoes, apples, and marijuana have not only evolved, but found ways to gain protection and cultivation from humans’ desires and attentions. Is Pollan anthropomorphizing blind nature? Is there room in the original Darwinian thesis for something like co-evolution or “Baldwinian evolution” ? (If so, can we expect evolutionary changes from global warming?)
  • In the passage we quoted from the Origin, Darwin talks about how species have been “perfected” and that there are “gradations of perfection” in species. Stephen Jay Gould in has emphatically argued that to think of “perfection” or even “progress” in evolution is erroneous. Could you please talk a bit about these ideas . . . is effective function a result of a process of “improvement” or maybe just a happy accident?
  • We read somewhere that Darwin’s reputation is based solely on evolution—that, in fact, many of his ideas were “crackpot”? Is that the case, and if so, was Darwin just lucky with evolution?
  • As we conclude, we wonder if you could tell us a little more of the contributions of evolutionary biology toward resolving various societal problems—e.g., fighting disease, crop improvement, wildlife management.
  • Quote from Darwin: “I feel most deeply that this whole question of Creation is too profound for human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton! Let each man hope and believe what he can.”   London Illustrated News (21 April 1862)
  • Closing sentence of Origin: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

A Do-It-Yourself Evolutionary Universe

As Issaac Asimov once argued, science fiction (and fantasy)  are actually an extension of our known universe, a “what if” exploration, and that is certainly the case with the Planii, who appear on a very cool Do-It-Yourself science fiction site maintained by Selarpis books. Here’s a passage:

The Plani are a thin bipedal species descended from the Eldrandii. The genetic code for wings was removed from their ancestors as part of their punishment when they were exiled from Eldrand, so that all who descended from the exiles would be distinguishable from the true Eldrandii. They have even thinner bodies than the Eldrandii, and their legs remain unsuited to regular walking despite eons of evolution – only one of many genetic infirmities the Plani face. Their skin is a pale gray, and for reasons difficult to determine, they have none of the variety of other species, including the Eldrandii, in hair color, eye color, or skin tints. Their often sickly forms have had a significant impact their psychology.  The skin of the Plani has notably fewer sensory receptors than human skin has, but otherwise they have similar sensory capacities to Earthlings. They have a greater propensity for nearsightedness, though, but are on the other hand more likely to have an acute sense of taste. In some regions, their local food can seen bland to humans, while human food maybe slightly overwhelming to certain Planii.
Edit the Universe!
Site creator Sam Winters explains:
This wiki’s goal is to present a deep, diverse fictional universe … materials on this site can be used in on-site stories…Practically anyone can have talents that might be useful to this collaborative project – artist can draw various species, or cities on other worlds; astronomers, biologists, chemists, and physicists are always useful when trying to manage the possibilities of space and to imagine entirely new possibilities; and writers can submit stories of different worlds, not to mention write compelling descriptions of species and worlds. Depending on the levels of detail, architecture, city planning, history, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and any number of other interests can be of the highest value in making this fictional universe compelling. There are no limits to the depths of imagination allowed in this project, and while this is undoubtedly a work of science-fiction, fantasy elements like magic are also welcome.

Playlist for Creation Stories and Darwin
Lightning Song (Apache)   2:20    Native American Indians    Music Of The Native Americans  
Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again    2:40    Stephen Moore        Sourwood Mountain: American Folk Traditions                             
The Spirit Of Uluru  7:23    The Australian Aborigine   Spirit Of Uluru – Music of the Australian Aborigine                                   
Pan Gu Creates Heaven And Earth Second Movement          9:41    Chen Yi         The Women’s Philharmonic: The Music Of Chen Yi                             
Tane Mahuta (Album)         2:58    The Ruby Suns        Sea Lion