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Suburban Tree Dialog 3 (Genesis and Evolution)

So far, engaging in this dialog with a suburban tree I have learned that my relationship to nature is changing through giving voice to an individual tree and engaging in a subjective dialog with my representation of the tree''s perspective in relation to me. This dialog has pointed me in several directions that have helped me understand the culture I have grown up in, and to feel a relationship to a non-talking, slow-moving (I thought of trees as non-moving before the dialog), very important, member of the living community of which I am a part.\r\n\r\nThe cultural part surprised me in the turn it took toward understanding trees from a religious and spiritual perspective and the two traditions where I am aware of trees in the literature of Buddhism and Christianity. I was shocked by reading Genesis and finding what seem to be roots of a grandiose description of the place of humans in the natural world and a patriarchy toward nature, as well as the one I am already aware of related to women. It seems like a pure power grab to me, where God creates man, then plants, and gives man dominion over nature. The dependencies are all wrong from a biological point of view. Man is a late development of an incredibly long and complex chain of interrelated building of life from starting with the primitive single celled creatures without a nucleus into complex organisms like plants, complex animals, and eventually humans. When Genesis says,

5: And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6: But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
7: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
8: And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9: And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

So the Genesis chain of events goes in this order, God -&gt; Earth with water -&gt; rain -&gt; man -&gt; planting a garden -&gt; putting man in the garden -&gt; making the garden grow what is good for man -&gt; adding the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Man is in a privileged position relative to the creator''s intentions and the order of dependencies involved in the acts of creation the story depicts as having caused the world to be as we know it. Imagining the original point of view of the initial writers, tellers, listeners, and readers it does help explain why the world of plants seems so well suited to human beings, in the story they were made to be useful for us. If I didn''t have science providing historical context the story wouldn''t seem as far fetched. The story science tells is a story of evolution where everything that lives is continually adapting through natural selection. We still are not able to watch that process unfold in our immediate awareness of daily life, but Darwin observed biological change influenced by geography and its implied historical process of adaptive change that we call evolution. With the advanced knowledge of our world we have now the role of RNA and DNA and the process of adaptive change carried in genetic information that develops over time is continually validating the basic theory of evolution and expanding it in directions not anticipated by Darwin. There are two competing views of how life came to be on earth and neither of them start with God, Man, or Tree. The origin story that science tells starts by defining what life is. Here is a quote from a <a href="" target="_blank">wonderful website</a> I found recently that lays out the definition clearly.

A "working definition" for life in the context of space exploration: "Life is a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing <a href="">Darwinian evolution</a>." Thus, any form of life must be a chemical system. Life also grows and sustains itself by gathering energy and molecules from its surroundings - the essence of metabolism. Finally, living entities must be self-replicating and display variation (mutation).

Not a very romantic, and certainly not human or God centered story, but it turns out that some of the elements included in Genesis, earth and water, play a part in the early chemistry that turns into primitive simple chemical building blocks, then simple living things, and then the ongoing development of more complex living things. Trees and people show up very late in that process and trees, while being relative newcomers to the living community, came into existence before people did. There are two competing life origination stories/theories in science. The older one, metabolism first,

An earlier scenario suggested the cells - enzymes - genes evolutionary sequence. It proposed that life began by the successive accumulation of more and more complicated molecular populations within the droplets (proto-cells).

second the RNA world theory,

"Replicator First" in Figure 11-04e with the sequence: (2) the molecules join together by chance in chains, some of which are capable of reproducing themselves, (3) these chains make many\r\nRNA World       copies of themselves, (4) sometimes forming mutant versions that are also capable of replicating, (5) mutant replicators that are better adapted to the environment supplant earlier versions, (6) eventually this evolutionary process leads to the development of compartments (cell membrane) and metabolism, in which smaller molecules use energy to perform useful processes.

here is a picture of the two theories side by side from Review of the Universe, Origin of Life\r\n<a href=""><img class="alignleft" title="Figure 11-04e Origin of Life Theories" src="" alt="" width="172" height="216" /></a>\r\n\r\nThis process seems to have most likely first occurred on the ocean floor and later to have been pushed upward into shallower water through the movement of the tectonic plates. At that point there was an opportunity for photosynthesis to develop. Apparently blue-green algae, 3,500,000,000  years ago, was the development that lead to photosynthesis and then the development of the world of plants. It is thought that the development of land based plant life emerged from mats of algae that would wash up onto the shore and then adapt to living on wet land.

That takes to the Cambrian period 540,000,000 to 500,000,000 years ago. The period in which the first plants that provided the fundamental properties of root systems and stiff upright stalks that would later evolve into trees was the Ordovician Period, 500,000,000 to 425,000,000 years ago. The Silurian Period, 425,000,000 to 400,000,000 years ago saw a tremendous increase in land based plant life and a move of animals from the sea to land. A description of the period from Universe Review sums it up nicely,

Thus abundant animal fossils are found only in strata laid down after plants became common on land. Actually, it took about 50 million years before animals developed ways to incorporate plants as food sources.

It is here that the pattern that will develop into the living world with which we are familiar first establishes its self. Primates first emerge 85,000,000 years ago and then our species appeared about 250,000 years ago.

The next period of biological development is called the Devonian Period, 408,000,000-362,000,000 years ago.

"While lacking large animals, the landscapes of the Devonian saw incredible changes in only about fifty million years. Plant life greened once-barren land for the first time."

Next the Carboniferous Period, 362,000,000 -290,000,000 years ago.

<blockquote>"During the 30 million years it took to recover the loss, Earth again grew warmer. Hardy mosses and horsetails, that survived to this day, joined with evolving tree ferns, and <a name="cordaits"></a><a href="">cordaits</a> to form the first subtropical forests. It is called the Carboniferous period because, over millions of years, succeeding generations of these extensive forests loaded themselves with carbon extracted from the atmosphere. They were gradually pressed into the ground and fossilized as coal and oil. Following that Permian Period, 290,000,000-245,000,000 years ago "The old types of plants and animals died out. Ferns were no longer the dominant plant species; they were succeeded by gymnosperms, including conifers such as <a href="">Walchia</a>. These were very widespread and, unlike ferns, were able to grow in dry areas. The largest group of gymnosperms is the cone-bearing conifers, which have needlelike leaves that are well adapted to not only not summers but also cold winters and high winds. Most gymnosperms are evergreen trees."

Following that there the biosphere continued to evolve through two periods called the Triassic Period, 245,000,000-208,000,000 and the Jurassic Period, 208,000,000-145,000,000

"It was filled with gymnosperms.  pointed ancestors of the sequoia, and a giant conifer that had a think trunk and luxuriant crown. " Next Cretaceous Period, 145,000,000-65,000,000 "Angiosperms marked a higher evolutionary stage in plant development. Their seeds are enclosed in cases and they have specially developed sex organs (stamens and a pistil), which are usually surrounded by brightly coloured petals and a green calyx. These flowering plants probably originated at a time before the Cretaceous period. They quickly adopted to the cooler climate during the early Cretaceous, and after that they developed at an astonishing rate. By now gymnosperms were starting to decline. Some of them still persisted, but their numbers constantly diminished. The only gymnosperms remaining in large number were conifers, many species of which have survived down to the present."

After that the Tertiary Period began and spanned the time between, 65,000,000-1,640,000 years ago. Primates got their start at the beginning of this period.

"Vast swampy forests were a marked feature of the Tertiary period, appearing in many of the low-lying land areas that emerged as a result of extensive mountain-folding. To give themselves additional support, conifers grew long prop roots, while the lower trunks of deciduous trees became cone-shaped... The earliest grasses appeared in the early Tertiary but didn''t really become a significant and distinctive presence on the land until much later. They probably spread across the plains in response to drier and cooler temperatures. The success of grass on the world''s plains and savannas owes much to its structure, growth habits and biology. Unlike most plants, grasses do not grow from the tips of their shoots; instead they grow from the base. So, even when grass leaves are damaged, the plant continues to grow. The root system of grasses also ensures their durability: up to ninety percent of the weight of a typical grass plant lies underground, forming a densely tangled root system. Such an underground network helps grasses survive cold and dry spells, raging fires and herds of thundering grass-eaters.\r\n\r\nGrasses, which cover up to one-third of the earth''s land surface, have not only nurtured great herds of mammals but entire human civilizations. Characterized by narrow leaves with parallel veins and small inconspicuous flowers, grasses come in about nine thousand different species. Grasses such as rice, wheat, maize, oats, barley, millet and sorghum remain important staples of the human diet. Not only is grass widespread, but it grows in virtually every environment including the coldest and driest of regions. Grasslands are also referred to as savannas, parklands, or prairies"

Finally the Quaternary Period in which we have lived began 1,640,000 ago and continues to the present.\r\n\r\nThis precedes the behaviorally modern humans who appear around 50,000 years ago, the development of agriculture around 10,000 years ago and the Genesis story around 3,000 years ago by quite a bit. The human industrial revolution has been around for about 200 years. I am 55 years old and have grown up in the suburbs during the last 1/4 of the industrial revolution. When I look back at the sweep of the biosphere''s history I am amazed at how wrong we, western industrial civilization as lived in the United States, have been during my lifetime and how supremely arrogant we are. The biosphere out of which we have emerged as the amazing conscious creatures we are has been hard at work creating all the interrelated building blocks of our evolving system for billions of years. The collision of the grandiose vision of Genesis and the narrow vision of industrial capitalism have combined to create a disasterous over consumption of billions of years of biological accumulation that is the basis of the living systems of which we are a new and vulnerable part. To provide a way of grasping the scope of the development of the living world and the human place in that world I have made a table that puts a lot of the information together.\r\n\r\n<strong>[TABLE=6]</strong>\r\n\r\nSo there it is, not man first, garden second but most living things first and humankind only lately emerging from the development of biological complexity over a very long period of time.The first trees came 499,750,000 years before the first humans, the first conifers came 289,950,000 years before behaviorally modern humans and 289,997,000 years before the book of Genesis.

Me: You are right, trees think longer thoughts than humans and have been around for a very long time, much longer than humans.

Tree: I told you so.

Me: I never doughted you, I just had to do a little research to put it in perspective. I intuitively saw it as a whole pattern that was true, I needed to find the detalis of the picture and get them down in writing so they become more a part of my life.

Tree: So where do we go from here?

Me: Maybe we rewrite Genesis to reflect the truth of the living world and the place of humans in it. Thomas Jefferson re-wrote the bible to make it work better for his purposes, why don''t we do the same with Genesis.

Tree: Won''t you get in trouble with God?

Me: No, but I would probably get in trouble with some people who believe in their culturally inherited Christian creator God.

Tree: Do you think it would help?

Me: I''m not sure.

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