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Godly lessons from evolution superheroes

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Published: 22 September 2009(GMT+10)

Photo iStockphoto

superhero

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4–5.

Most boys and girls groan at the thought of becoming like their parents when they grow up. However, I often notice that my mannerisms mirror my parents’ and I recognise that the inevitable has happened—I have become like my parents to some degree, and I’m sure this is true for most adults. When we are young, we pick up many things that stay with us for life; old habits and thoughts die hard.

As a child there were two people who greatly influenced me and the thoughts that I had about life, genetic information, and human capabilities. These were fictional characters, Spiderman and Wolverine. Both are icons in the modern age, having enabled their promoters to rake in millions of dollars in movies and merchandising. But what do they have to do with impressionable children and evolution?

Hugely popular

Spider-Man and Wolverine are Marvel Comics Superheroes. They have also been portrayed in books, colouring books, on mugs, as figurines, on clothing, etc. Recently Spider-Man was portrayed by actor Toby Maguire in three blockbuster films: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007); Spider-Man 4 is set to be released in 2011. The worldwide gross income for the three films was nearly $2.5 billion! Wolverine was portrayed by actor Hugh Jackman in three X-Men movies: X-Men (2000), X-Men 2 (2003), and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). The worldwide gross income for these three films was over $1.1 billion. Hugh Jackman also portrayed Wolverine in a spin-off film called X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), grossing $360 million worldwide. The worldwide gross income for these films clearly indicates how popular the science fiction genre is.

Who are they?

Spider-Man, real name Peter Parker, was created by Stan Lee in 1962. As the story goes, the bookworm teenager is bitten by a radioactive spider which alters his DNA giving him special abilities that normally only spiders would have. Wolverine, known as Logan, was created by Len Wein in 1974. He was born a ‘mutant’ whose body has the knack to heal and repair itself almost instantly. Wolverine is part of a group of comic book heroes who are all mutants, called X-Men because they have the X-Gene which other humans do not. For most, but not all, the X-Gene has a noticeable phenotypic1 effect.

In X-Men the evolutionary theme has always been explicit. For example in the opening of the first X-Men film … Professor Charles Xavier says ‘Mutation, it is the key to our evolution—it has enabled us to evolve from a single celled organism into the dominant species on the planet.’

Both characters display abilities which are far beyond the capabilities of any human being and as a child this fascinated me. Imagine being able to run up walls, leap incredible distances, being able to heal yourself almost instantaneously and of course, stop bad guys! In Spiderman the evolutionary theme is not pushed as hard, although it is implicit that radioactivity which caused the spider to mutate is the cause of mutation of his own DNA, so giving him his super powers. But in X-Men the evolutionary theme has always been explicit. For example, in the opening of the first X-Men film, Patrick Stewart, playing X-Men Professor Charles Xavier, says “Mutation, it is the key to our evolution—it has enabled us to evolve from a single celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward!”2 The same statement is made by different characters in the other two X-Men films.

Evolution is thought to have occurred in small gradual steps over millions of years and requires mutations—random copying mistakes that occur in our DNA—to bring about new information for natural selection to act upon resulting in novelties that change one kind of animal or plant into another. However, no mutation which has added information to the genome has ever been observed,3 and those mutations that have been studied always lead to a decrease in information. Click here to see Richard Dawkins fumble as he tries to give an answer when asked to give an example of an information-adding mutation, or click here to have more questions about mutations answered.

So, especially with the ‘X-Men’, long eons of time, the evolution story, and the capabilities of mutations to change people and give them new abilities, are all pushed to make the story credible. But because all of this baggage is attached to superheroes (particularly the ability of mutations to give them super powers), it can then have a great sticking effect on young minds. I remember wondering if there was something special in my DNA that would mutate and cause me to have super powers—quite an appealing thought to a child of 11. So right from an early age, from an unlikely source, I had the desire for evolution to be true. I knew the name Charles Darwin, I knew the words ‘natural selection’, ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘evolution’ and yet at the same time I also knew about the biblical account of creation, the Fall, Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel from Sunday School classes. However at age 11, I did not consider my thoughts of evolved mutant superheroes to be incompatible with the Biblical account of creation. I simply had a dichotomy in my mind; and I didn’t see the Bible as a history book which flowed in one direction—beginning to end—but rather, it was the ‘spiritual truths’ that were taught to me from these accounts that mattered. I could not have put the biblical historical events above into order (apart from the 6 days of creation), and did not understand that they had real-world implications.

Long eons of time, the evolution story, and the capabilities of mutations to change people, giving them new abilities, are all pushed to make the story credible. But because all of this is attached to superheroes (the ability of mutations to give them super powers), this can then have a great sticking effect on young minds.

So, in a simple fashion, there are a few points and questions I would like to bring out from these musings on the influences of my past.

1 – What children watch at a young age affects them for a long time into their adult life. Even if the precepts are wrong, e.g. that mutations can bring about super powers in humans, they can stick for the remainder of their life. So the question for every parent, Sunday School teacher, Youth Club leader, etc., is: What is it that the children you’re teaching are watching, learning and taking in, and how can you best equip them from an early age to defend the biblical account of origins? This may even require you to re-think your entire teaching curriculum and learn new information yourself!4

2 – We need to teach children Bible history, rather than Bible stories as separate individual events, gleaning only spiritual truths from them. At age 11, I could surely have recited for you the accounts of Adam, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Tower of Babel (and Moses, Esther, Kings, Daniel, etc.), but I could not have told you their significance in a time-line. Yet, at the same age I could have told you where the Vikings and the Victorians fitted into the history of England/Ireland which I had learnt at primary school.5 We need to teach children and young people that there are real-world implications for the events that we read about in Genesis—for example Genesis chapters 1–11 deal with anthropology, zoology, geology, cosmology, etc.—and that we need to view the world around us with biblical presuppositions in mind.

Christians need to start thinking about the bigger picture, and realise that God is not confined to spiritual or moral truth alone, but that Jesus is the God of history, both at the beginning,6 here and now, sustaining all things,7 and at the end of time when the books are opened.8 Christians need to reclaim a lot of things in this world, perhaps starting with challenging how our youth (and indeed many older people too) think about history. It is only in the context of real biblical history that the Gospel makes sense (Read about Paul’s Acts 17 model). We need to re-capture their education, taking care over what they view and take in, and being ready and equipped to deal with their questions and misconceptions—and praying that Psalm 25:4-5 quoted at the top (and bottom) would be the prayer of each of our children growing up. Our prayerful aim should be that they would understand those words because they have been taught about the bible as the real history book of mankind, that they are fallen because of Adam’s sin at a real point at the start of history. Finally, that they need to repent and put their hope fully in the finished work of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, through whose death on the cross they can have their broken relationship with God restored.

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:4–5.

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References

  1. An organism’s phenotype refers to its physical characteristics, which reflect a combination of its genotype (i.e. its genetic makeup) and its environment (e.g. nutrition). Return to text.
  2. Quotation taken from the opening scene of X-Men (2000) distributed by 20th Century Fox Return to text.
  3. The claims about a new nylon-digesting ability in certain bacteria notwithstanding, see http://creation.com/the-adaptation-of-bacteria-to-feeding-on-nylon-waste. Return to text.
  4. I would encourage you not to re-invent the wheel if you should change or adjust your teaching curriculum, but to have a look at some of the resources that have already been put together for ideas on how to go about it and then add to them. Please see: Education and Curricula on our webstore. Return to text.
  5. The age range for Primary Schools in Northern Ireland where I grew up is 4–11years. Return to text.
  6. Colossians 1:16 Return to text.
  7. Hebrews 1:3 Return to text.
  8. Revelation 20:12 Return to text.

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