Let’s Talk about Snakes!
Gather ‘round, young creationist True Believers™: time for a little herpetology lesson from the Blessed Old Leather-Bound Bible!
Genesis 3 begins with a description of a talking animal – one of two such wonders found in God’s Word:
//Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”//
There follows the story of “the Fall.” Later, when the blame game is being played:
The woman said, “The serpent tricked me and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
That’s all we hear of this wondrous eloquent reptile in the Bible, unless that “old dragon” reference in Revelation 20:2 is intended to refer back to the creation story.
There are many things about “the Fall” that I find puzzling, but as much as I’d like to start listing and raising questions about them – the kinds of impertinent questions that tend to aggravate the hell out of True Believers™ because they aim at getting people to think about the notions they take for granted – I’m going to focus on the snake because that’s the kind of mood I happen to be in at the moment (that copperhead I encountered in the Ozarks last weekend might have something to do with it). Let me address a few serpentine questions to any creationists who happen to reading this:
First, is it really true that the serpent is craftier than any other wild animal? Is a snake wilier than a coyote? A roadrunner? A leopard? A dolphin? Have you ever known a snake to trick anyone?
In my experience, snakes tend to be pretty shy and mostly just want to get away from perceived threats. Were they different before the Fall? Or did their nature change after the Flood? (By taking two of every species of snake on the Ark, did Noah thereby invite catastrophe? What if one of the talking “kind” had corrupted one of Noah’s fine, upstanding, righteous sons or their [unnamed] wives? Or had snakes lost the ability to speak by that time?)
Ah, but maybe the Edenic snake was special, a unique, beautiful and unduplicated creature with legs and wings, unrelated to other reptiles, condemned to slithering only after corrupting the crowning glory of God’s creation. I’ve heard that interpretation, and perhaps some of you believe it. If that’s the case, why did an all-knowing God create the damned thing in the first place? I can certainly understand how snakes could have evolved (and did, in fact, sometime during the late Pennsylvanian Period without God’s putting a stop to it), but a wily, talking snake with a will of its own, determined to destroy God’s handiwork but created on the sixth day of Creation Week by that omniscient yet curiously short-sighted deity nonetheless – that’s something else.
Of what taxon was this serpent a member? Was it one of the “kinds” named in the Sacred Scriptures? Was it an asp? A “cockatrice?” It is a species still extant, or did it go extinct at some point – did God wipe it out during the Great Flood, say, as punishment for destroying his creation (without a hint of irony)? Could the other members of its species talk as well? How could it talk? (Snakes don’t have vocal cords; nor do they have the abdominal muscles necessary to propel air through their non-existent vocal cords.)
The wording of the first verse I quoted places the snake among the “wild animals” which God had created. That means that the snake was among the animals that Adam named in the second chapter of God’s Word – animals over which Adam was given “dominion.” Yet what we see here is a couple of buck naked naïfs (one made from dust, the other cloned from a rib), innocent as newborn babes, cohabiting a garden with a limbless reptile that’s apparently a lot smarter than they are. I’m wondering if those who believe Genesis as written have ever indulged a little comparative anatomy – besides each other’s, I mean. Do they know what the volume of an average human cranium is? Do they know how that compares to the cranial capacity of any reptile? Have they looked at brain structures? Do they know that our ability to speak arises from the neocortex? Do they know that a snake doesn’t have a neocortex?
Apparently, we must seek explanations that lie beyond the natural realm – always a conversation-stopper when it comes to exchanges with atheists. Nevertheless, I’d like to field some questions along those lines since I’m always excited to learn new things. Did God give the snake this ability in order to execute his divine plan? If it’s his plan, why are the penalties described in Genesis 3 (to say nothing of the rest of the Best Book Ever Written) so draconian? Or was the snake demon-possessed? Was the snake really Satan in disguise? Do you believe that Satan can disguise himself as other animals and trick you? Is your dog, cat or goldfish (or your pet boa constrictor, if you have one) an agent (actual or potential) of Satan? Has your puppy, guppy or gerbil ever talked to you? Has it ever lied to you? Tempted you? Has it ever “led you astray?”
If you were to commit some heinous crime (as Adam and Eve did, apparently) and were to testify in a court of law that your pet turtle had persuaded you to do it, what kind of hearing would you expect to receive? Would you be surprised or aggrieved if the judge didn’t believe you? Would you imagine him to be unreasonable for sentencing you to prison? Would you chalk up his intransigence to Darwinist, secular-humanist bias and spend the rest of your natural life-behind-bars railing against the godless socialist baby-killing Christ-hating system like Kent Hovind?
I think there’s another dimension to this story that mostly goes unaddressed. Not only can the Edenic snake talk: it can argue (or at least make more persuasive counter-claims than God himself!). God simply threatens punishment: the snake promises rewards. (As the old saying goes, you can catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.) Moreover, it encourages you to ask questions – to question what you think you know or what you imagine yourself to have been commanded to do. (I am, in some sense, that snake. There’s honor in it.) A snake that smart would make a hell of a pet (no pun intended, of course). It wouldn’t just lie there soaking up the sun like a goddamn useless housecat. It would probably play checkers with you, and win at least some of the time. It might even be persuaded to homeschool your kids.
No telling what a snake like that would fetch on the exotic animal black market. Sure wish I had one. Better yet, I sure wish you creationists would stop believing patently nonsensical Bronze-Age fairy tales like the one under examination. It’s embarrassing.