Bald heads and talking snakes
Published: 21 May 2011 (GMT+10)
This week’s feedback features two correspondents: one asks whether it was like Adam was created bald, and the other takes umbrage at the idea that the snake of Genesis 3 could have talked. CMI’s Carl Wieland responds.
Peter L. from Australia asked:
Some years ago, when I was in the early stages of going bald, a friend of mine said that this was a result of the ‘Fall’, which I accepted at the time but now I am not so sure.Do you think that Adam could have been created bald, or that Adam or Eve could have had the baldness gene, prior to sinning?This is a relatively trivial issue, but in a world that clearly has different ideas to God as to what is sickness and what isn’t, it is, I think, important.Another friend and I were talking today about whether Asperger’s syndrome is an illness, and therefore something in need of healing of treating.I would value your opinion.Thanks,Peter
Dr Carl Wieland (once a practising medical doctor) replied:
Dear Mr L.
Thank you for an interesting question.
Not everything is known about baldness, but I don’t think that your suggestion is likely, unfortunately.Not everything is known about baldness, but I don’t think that your suggestion [that Adam was created bald] is likely, unfortunately.
For one thing, there is the fact that the hair on the head performs an obvious role in shielding the scalp from sunburn, and that the scalp seems peculiarly sensitive to such sunburn (i.e. it is less well defended against it than other parts of the body). This suggests that when it comes to a mechanism which causes a once-full head of hair able to protect the scalp to progressively be lost, we are talking about a defective gene, rather than the ‘norm’.
This is backed up to an extent, though it’s a much more nebulous argument, by the fact that in all cultures I know of, people spend time and money tackling it as a ‘problem’. So that suggests that it’s not something that fits well with a ‘good’ world.
The most common type of baldness is so-called ‘male pattern baldness’, and it seems to result from the action of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgenic male hormone. It seems likely from research to date that individuals with this pattern have inherited a variant (I would claim likely mutated, based on the above) form of gene that affects the sensitivity of the androgen receptor.
These things are often not straightforward, as they are sometimes linked to other traits. But generally, while I would not want to ‘die on that hill’, the above is what I would favour, which fits with your friend’s suggestion.
Re Asperger’s syndrome– this is a harder issue to define, in a sense. It’s a bit like the situation with ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, where there is a whole spectrum of presentations, ranging from mild to severe. And there, too, the popularity of the diagnosis seems to be related to the frequency of awareness from media exposure.
Asperger’s is commonly seen as part of the spectrum of autism. Having known (and had great sympathy with) parents with severely autistic children, there is absolutely no doubt in their minds (or mine) that such autism most definitely is a very, very serious (even tragic) condition that is definitely ‘abnormal’ and causes havoc to families. A mild case of Asperger’s, though, might not warrant treatment any more than someone with a different personality to another. [Asperger’s support groups and specialized therapists have some success in helping people with the syndrome find alternative strategies and mechanisms to help them cope.—CW] This raises questions about so-called personality disorders too, i.e. to what extent are they the result of ‘hard wiring’ in the brain, and in turn to what extent are they due to the Fall? They are certainly among the most intractable of conditions, and when severe, can cause a great deal of human misery. So does that warrant ‘treatment’, or is it just ‘bad behaviour’ that needs to be controlled and discouraged? Many who have (are struggling with) some of these would certainly line up for treatment if there was any, but we at all times need to be careful when it comes to alleged disorders affecting personality and behaviour. There seem to be several extremes that one can easily fall into: the ‘medical model’ in which everything is a disease that needs ‘treatment’; the ‘social model’ in which it is all ‘society’s fault’, and never the fault of the individual; and the ‘superspiritual’ model, in which it is all down to individual choices to be sinful, and no consideration may be given to the possible effects of the Fall on human proclivity to certain forms of behaviour. (E.g. mutations that might potentially affect brain function in some way.)
That vexed question of personal responsibility for bad behaviour can be particularly problematic in some situations—where does ‘disorder’ stop and ‘sin’ start? Is a child a ‘spoiled brat’, or ‘suffering from hyperactivity’? (Or some combination of both?) As with most of these things, the answers will probably not be ‘one size fits all’ and will require a good dose of what the Bible calls wisdom, applied case by case and always bearing James 1:5 in mind.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Louis v.R., known to be a theistic evolutionist from South Africa, writes:
Hello, Carl. You say that either the Bible is the truth or it is in error. Black or white. This applies specifically, if I understand you alright, to the early chapters of Genesis.In the KJV Gen 3:1 one reads: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said …”In the New International Version: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”In the American standard version: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden? 3:2”Contemporary English version: “1The snake was sneakier than any of the other wild animals that the LORD God had made. One day it came to the woman and asked, “Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?””The creature is referred to either as a “serpent” or a “snake”; there is no capital “S” in the word, so it seems to refer literally and unambiguously to the cold-blooded animal we usually call a “snake.” In the Afrikaans translation also the word used is “slang” (pronounced to rhyme with “hung”), i.e. “snake”.In all the versions the snake is said to be “more subtle”, “more crafty” or “sneakier” than any of the other animals.This is patent nonsense if interpreted literally. A snake’s brain is probably hardly bigger than the head of a pin, certainly no bigger than a dried pea, so it simply cannot be cleverer/more intelligent than all the other animals.Nor does the snake’s brain carry the wiring to conduct speech-only human brains have that (you, as a medical man, will know: I believe it is a special section of the brain on the left side).Nor does a snake have the kind of speech organs that would make it possible for it to speak.Therefore I cannot see any way how this passage can be taken literally as straightforward factual historical narrative.There are a few other points I could mention but this illustrates my point well enough.Have a pleasant eveningLouis
Louis, Prof. Marcus Dods (not a believer in the literal truth of Genesis, actually very much a liberal, but a Hebrew expert) said that if the word ‘day’ in Genesis does not mean day, then any attempt at exegesis is a hopeless exercise. I.e. folk like him can admit that it means what it says, because they just shrug it off as irrelevant, because they ‘know’ it’s not true, it’s just one more human document with error; they don’t have to worry about preserving even a modicum of special status for it as a revelation from God of how to win eternal life and avoid eternal lostness.
Equally here, if the Bible is not correct, then by the same sort of reasoning the Resurrection is nonsense, and thus there is no hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable, as Paul put it.
Look at this thread of logic you’re offering up:
- Genesis says that a snake talked.
- Snakes can’t talk.
- Therefore Genesis is either mistaken, or cannot be intended to be a factual account.
Now compare it to this:
- Matthew says that Christ physically rose from the dead.
- Dead men don’t rise.
- Therefore Matthew’s Gospel is either mistaken, or cannot be intended to be a factual account.
In either case, Louis, having the Bible as the basis for any rational faith is hopeless, and you and I may as well join the Rotary Club. Alternatively, one can take a presuppositional approach. Suppose, even if only for the sake of the argument, that the Bible conveys ‘true truth’ here. There is no indication from the text that this is other than a historical narrative, and that is how the NT writers and the Lord Jesus Christ take it, always. So let’s ask the question, is there any way for this to fit with modern-day scientific knowledge?
Indeed there is. First, a miracle-working God (the only sort able to create a functioning universe in 6 days) would have no problem having an exception to the rule in the case of snakes. But we are in any case given additional clues in other parts of Scripture, namely that:
- The power behind the talking snake was the angelic being originally called Lucifer, later Satan. [Later parts of the Bible record apparent speech coming from spirits (in the Gadarene demoniac) which then possessed pigs, for example (though there is no record of their utterances continuing). And then there is Balaam's ass.]
- The snake we are talking about, though the ancestor of today’s snakes, was definitely not the same as them; Genesis talks of a radical transformation in its mode of locomotion, for one thing.
I liked Colin's comment. I thought it was excellent, and I enjoyed hearing the point of view from a Christian that has Asperger's Syndrome. I think our son may have been an Aspie, but we were never able to get a diagnosis. And we have a grandson, who has autism.
Regarding the comments on Asperger Syndrome, I read recently that there is a relatively high incidence of AS in Jewish people. I’m not sure how accurate that information is, but if true, it could have a bearing on the processes they developed for copying the OT text, which could be characterised as obsessive in their assurance of accuracy. Clearly a good thing in preserving the text of Scripture.
I am a Christian with a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. I think that this confers both advantages and disadvantages. Although the Fall can be blamed for the disadvantages, I suspect that mild Asperger’s falls within God’s original designed variation for humanity. For instance, so many mathematicians have aspie traits that it would be hard to see advanced mathematics developing in a world with no aspies. I think it also helps spiritually, in that it’s easier to grasp that God wants us to see the world from His perspective when I’m already aware of two human perspectives - aspie and non-aspie - instead of just one.
I think that society is changing in ways which disadvantage aspies, for instance education now tends to focus on empathy and interpretation rather than rote learning; it’s much harder to find a job for life; and marriage partnerships are found by exercising relationship skills rather than through family ties.
I have come to accept having Asperger Syndrome as part of God’s plan for my life, although I would like to be free of the sensory issues that go with it. I look forward to the day when all you non-aspies - we use the term NTs which stands for neurotypicals - are healed of your inability to really focus in on your special interests like aspies can, and can develop them to the full extent which God intends!