Mankind, the alpha species of our planet, has established a unique presence on this planet. We, self obsessed as we are, have even taken the liberty of drawing lines in the soil and the seas, dividing amongst ourselves a planet that belongs not just to us, but millions of birds, billions of bees, thousands of elephants and among others 1700 Indian tigers on latest count. While evolution and survival of the fittest can explain how the species developed their survival and defence mechanisms, nothing can quite explain the chasm that exists between this alpha species and its nearest competitor.
Several so called human traits are visible among other species, like social structures, ability to feel emotions, communicate, improvise, cooperate etc. Animals exhibit several of these same abilities and yet haven’t even come close to landing on the moon or making a supersonic jet. Eons of evolution makes forensic examination of that one key difference between man and animal difficult. But where forensics fail us a theological argument could provide the answer.
Bridging the gap between prehuman biology and the relatively recent invention of agriculture are earlier technologies of stone and fire, language, counting, religion, time, and representational art. By objectifying Nature and humanizing the Wild, by converting the world into an object of management and control, these technologies initiated the process of separation hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years ago.
The institution of linear time measurement, language, number, art and so on can all be seen collectively as elements of a kind of original crime.
In what sense does the use of the first technology—the stone tools that date back over two million years—represent a distancing from nature? Stones, after all, were natural objects. What separates the tool-making H. habilis from the non-tool making Australopithicus that preceded him? What separates them from other animals? For that matter, what separates us from all other animals?
The key distinguishing factor between human and animal technology is innovation — not just tool use, but cumulative improvements in tools. And even this is a quantitative, not a qualitative, distinction. Animals do learn and pass on new “technologies”. With humanity, the accumulation of new technologies had greatly accelerated.
Tool innovation would have been slow at first. Hundreds of thousands of years would have passed without significant improvements. But as the culturally-transmitted knowledge accumulated, its sum total would have come to comprise a separate human realm. The difference between an acculturated human and a feral human would have widened. A new stage in our conceptual distancing from other species and with nature would have begun.
Perhaps no other technology exemplifies this division better than fire. Like every other step, mastery of fire must have come about gradually. Homo erectus probably used it without knowing how to make it for hundreds of thousands of years. Eventually fire came to define human beings as unique among animals. Its use in cooking changed the human digestive system forever. Its use for warmth and protection allowed the habitation of whole new ecosystems. Ultimately, of course, fire led to ceramics and metals, engines and factories, chemistry and electronics, and the whole edifice of the artificial modern world.
Every quantum accumulation of new tools, like fire, agriculture, tools, machines would have led, over time to significant evolutionary developments. With hindsight of over millions of years and all the archealogical evidence at our disposal it is easy to spot these developments. But in many ways, with the pace of innovation accelerating in the past 3 centuries, it is only natural that evolutionary pressures are acting right this moment to take us to new human realms.
So, theologically, if there is one thing that is responsible for the deep divide between us, as a species and the rest of them, it has to be innovation.
And that brings us to the Original Sin.
Others, like Alan Millard, have hypothesized that the Garden of Eden does not represent a ‘geographical’ place, but rather represents ‘cultural memory’ of “simpler times”, when man lived off God’s bounty (as “primitive” hunters and gatherers still do) as opposed to toiling at agriculture (being “civilized”).
The “eating of the apple” is symbolic perhaps of enjoying the fruits of early innovation and “the banishing from the garden of Eden” is how we took our first steps away from Nature.
And life comes full circle. Ironic isn’t it that the Ipod/Iphone generation as we call ourselves today, the devices that define us are manufactured by a company called APPLE.