Swimming

Yes I know that if you've had much to do with me over the past couple of months  I've shown you a thousand pictures of my grand daughter, but just before you nod off, here's one more. This one was taken about 6 weeks ago when she was two months old, and she is, as you can see, underwater. Her eyes are open, she is holding her breath and, so I have read,  if her mum were to let her go she would be able to swim to the surface in a completely co-ordinated fashion. Of all the photos I have of her this one maybe doesn't show off her cuteness as well as many others, but it fascinates me.

How is she able to do this?

She goes weekly, along with about a dozen or so other children of her age to swimming lessons, but nobody taught her the necessary skills to survive underwater; she was born with them. And this is the fascinating bit. Somewhere in the long evolutionary history of our species it was necessary for new born babies to be able to survive in the water and consequently a whole suite of related behaviours became genetically imprinted: holding breath, opening eyes, moving in a rudimentary dog paddle, seeking the surface, grasping. Desmond Morris theorises that  our species was, for a period of its development, aquatic; that our lack of body hair, the distribution of our sub cutaneous fat and these particular instincts point to a time when we spent much or even most of our time wading or swimming. Other palaeontologists note the behaviour of the great apes when they are in water and speculate that the necessity to wade in some ancient time of great climate change led to the development of our upright stance. Who knows? but it makes sense to me. At only a few weeks old Naomi (and of course other babies) will startle and splutter and look concerned if water is splashed in her face, but will emerge from  complete immersion without the slightest trace of concern but with, to the contrary, every sign of enjoyment.
 Whatever their specific genesis, these instincts are a remnant of the long path trodden by our species through goodness knows what difficulties and obstacles, from the trees of the African forest to Beethoven and iPhones and  heated indoor swimming pools. Naomi's swimming lessons will help keep her safe in the water and perhaps help her also, one day, to develop her mother's prowess as a competitive swimmer. Be that as it may. She swims for fun but her long forgotten ancestors did it to survive. Her retention of their skills is an awe inspiring reminder that we are in process: individually and as a species. We come from a forgotten but still present past and the path from then to now can be intelligently guessed giving a sense of  the direction and trajectory of our as yet incomplete evolution.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Evolutionary memory? Oh, I dunno, maybe God just made us that way! Lovely kid, & she couldn't be a dinkum Aussie without spending half her life in water and the other half in the sun.
VenDr said…
Having hard wired behaviours defined by our evolutionary past and being made by God are not mutually exclusive . To the contrary; living in a universe that seems tailor made for the evolution of life and consciousness is to me an overwhelming indicator of the presence of purpose ( and therefore of a purposer) in the whole shebang. And yes it's a pretty safe bet she will spend a good deal of her life in flippers and/ or a sun hat.
Anonymous said…
"Having hard wired behaviours defined by our evolutionary past and being made by God are not mutually exclusive"

Most evolutionary explanations are really complex "just-so" stories that are entirely impossible to prove, since nobody can pin down what x point of the earth was like y years ago and what was living then and what the climate, atmosphere etc were - read the literature and the stories keep changing over the years. Evolution seems a very wasteful and painful way to achieve some purpose for an all-powerful and all-wise Creator. That's the argument many atheists make.
Alden Smith said…
It may well be that there is not a "purposer" but 'purposers' - the whole shebang has the distinct flavour of being designed by a committee who burnt the manual afterwards so they couldn't be sued.
VenDr said…
I don't want to get into an argument about whether or not evolution happens. Of course it does. There is nothing, but nothing in the universe that does not evolve, including of course you and me during the courses of our brief lifetimes.

"Evolutionary explanations" are educated guesses about what the course of development may have been. Of course they are speculative, just like all historical explanations.(including all, and I mean ALL Biblical exegesis) But there are testable implications to some of them of course: plotting the evolution of continents, for instance, tells you where oil may be found and where earthquakes are likely to happen. Plotting the evolution of stars and galaxies gives testable predictions about what may be found in the night sky and where. Because evolution seems to us to be wasteful and painful is not an argument against neither evolution, nor the existence of God but rather an invitation to revise and enlarge our limited and partial view of God: ie an invitiation into truth.

Of course the stories change over the years. Our knowledge evolves, just like everything else.
VenDr said…
Mr. Christian: Look, I've just found Paley's watch. One look at it tells you there must be a watchmaker.

Mrs. Agnostic: isn't it lovely! But what makes those little hands go round and round?

Mr. Christian: The watchmaker, obviously.

Mrs Agnostic: Hang on a minute. Look here! There are all manner of little wheels and springs and doohickeys in the back which make the hands go round. That's obvious proof that there is no watchmaker turning the hands.

Mr. Christian: Little wheels and springs and doohickeys would be a very wasteful way for an all knowing watchmaker to make hands turn, so whatever it is that you're looking at in the back of the watch is obviously just speculation. ( thinks to himself: I must be on my guard! If the wheels do actually make the hands turn then my cherished idea of a watchmaker falls to pieces, and then where would I be? ).
Anonymous said…
I understand you are not interested in a debate here, so I'll conclude by noting that you use "evolution" in a number of different senses, some trivial and always believed('everything changes'), others a lot more ethically and religiously significant, viz. the Neo-Darwinian belief in 'the Tree of Life' of macro-evolution from one species to another, by random genetic mutation and "natural selection" which impersonally "selects" individuals for survival, while disfavoring others. Darwinism posits an entirely unguided and impersonal process, so it is not really "selection" but a vast, vast number of chance events, most of which were harmful. Most of my life I have subscribed (when I have given it any thought) to some kind of theistic evolution, but I do find it hard to square this with the Bible's picture of an all-wise and all-loving Creator. I suspect (but cannot prove) that Darwinism, along with other 19th century beliefs, will be ditched in the future as altogether too simple and protean a belief for the complexity of life.
VenDr said…
There is of course an distinction to be drawn between evolution (ie the belief that things evolve) and Darwinism or neo-darwinism which is a particular explanation of how things evolve. The two mechanisms of Darwinism - random mutuation and natural selection - are of course powerful agents in the process but I don't think give a full and satisfactory explanation.

I have no problem whatsoever, btw in believing in a common descent for all life forms on Earth, but I don't want to go through the tedium of an argument on that score here.

But evolution is a bigger process than the development of life on this planet. Personalities evolve and so do languages and civilisations and landforms. It seems that matter evolved, but because the forms that the basic structures of matter can take are necessarily limited, the evolution was comparatively brief. Stars evolve, as do galaxies and indeed the entire universe seems to be evolving. For me the interesting questions revolve not so much around the mechanisms by which life on this little scrap of the universe arise and change as they do around the larger question of why everything evolves, and to what purpose? This is a question which doesn't so much detract from my understanding of an all wise and all loving creator as greatly, GREATLY enhance it.
Anonymous said…
"For me the interesting questions revolve not so much around the mechanisms by which life on this little scrap of the universe arise and change as they do around the larger question of why everything evolves, and to what purpose?"

I agree that the question of mechanism is not so central, but if Darwinism and the Tree of Life are true, then human beings will be naturally superceded one day by a new species - and that I don't accept because of my belief in the Bible and the Incarnation.
Increasingly I feel Darwinism is just too simplistic a theory.
For atheists, the question of purpose - teleology - is of course meaningless, as is talk of the soul.
Alden said…
One of the questions that is interesting within the context of the concept of "evolution" is to what extent is "God" (whatever that metaphor / word means) is evolving outside of or within this consciousness that life in? Is "God" evolving and learning from that which "God" supposedly created?

But one thing that is sure is this - our human concept of "God" has evolved and is evolving over time. An answer to the question (within the Christian context) "Do you believe in God?" would be, "Which God? " -- the God that was conceptualised at the rise of monotheism? the angry genocidal murderous old Testament God? The Christian God during the period of 325 years before the canoising of the NT? The Medieval God? The liberal God? The Catholic God? -- Surely our ideas of "God" are part of this great evolutionary process.

Any supposed empirical evidence that proves that "God" is the same yesterday, today or tomorrow is not something we are privy to at this point in time, so we are left to the evolutionary process of sloughing off old concepts that don't fit our evolving knowledge as we continue to search for meaning.
Alden said…
CORRECTION:

..."or within this consciousness that life in?"

I meant..... or within this consciousness that we live in?
VenDr said…
Yes, our concept of God has evolved and is evolving. Which is one of the reasons why, at some point in our personal spiritual evolution, there comes a time to make that great act of dying to self and leave our concepts of God behind - all of them - and enter the cloud of unknowing.
Anonymous said…
"there comes a time to make that great act of dying to self and leave our concepts of God behind - all of them - and enter the cloud of unknowing."

Yes! yes! - Spong said this, and so did Holloway and Geering and Joseph Fletcher - time now to follow their brave example and discard all those musty creeds and embrace atheism - or at least impenetrable episcobuddhist can't-say-anythingism.

Kelvin, I am deeply disappointed to read these strange equivocal words. Do you not believe that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word of the Father? That His Word is Truth and that He rescues us from hell to enjoy eternal life with Him? That He lives within our hearts by faith?

Why should anyone attend an Anglican church if these things are not taught and lived?
Alden said…
Anonymous... below is an extract which I display on my Blog. Its from one of Karen Armstrongs books, all of which I have found particularly useful - 'A History of God' is particularly good in getting a broad perspective on the way religion evolves. I think you will find it very educational and very useful in your search for understanding and meaning. Its a long road I know ( indeed a lifetimes work) but don't give up.

WISDOM FROM KAREN ARMSTRONG
" He had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. It you believe in a certain way you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice."

"I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering "The Truth" or The Meaning of Life" but about living as intensely as possible in the here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to "get to heaven" but to discover how to be fully human - hence the images of the perfect or enlightened man, or the deified human being. Archetypal figures such as Muhammad, the Buddha and Jesus become icons of fulfilled humanity. God or Nirvana is not an optional extra, tacked on to our human nature. Men and women have a potential for the divine, and are not complete unless they realise it within themselves.

A passing Brahman priest once asked the Buddha whether he was a god, a spirit, or an angel. None of these the Buddha replied; "I am awake." "
VenDr said…
Anonymous, we are called to a path of faith. Faith is NOT belief. They are related to be sure, but they are not the same thing.

In my own walk, my precedence is a bit older than Spong and Geering. The 14th century masterpiece The Cloud of Unknowing - also by Anonymous ( no relation I assume) has been my main source lately, bit also Meister Eckhart and St. John of the Cross. These have 21st Century interpreters in the persons of Thomas Keating and the whole Centering Prayer movement.

To realise that some concept of God or other is, like all concepts, naturally limited and partial is not necessarily to abandon it. In much the same way I suppose that becoming familiar with differential calculus does not mean that you must suddenly deny the veracity of the arithmetic you learned in standard 2, we are called ever onwards into bigger and more complex ideas of God; but spiritual growth is not intellectual growth - or at least, not JUST intellectual growth. There comes a point when you must realise that concepts and beliefs can take you no further on the path of faith, and in some rooms of The interior castle ( to use Theresa of Avila's metaphor) must be left at the door.
VenDr said…
And as for the specific matters of belief you raise, I guess that's pretty much the point. I suspect that a phrase like " Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of the Father" is something that you, me and John Spong could all say we absolutely believed. But of course we all mean quite different things by the words. This is because words are... well... words. Language is by its very nature metaphorical. Particular arrangements of syllables are agreed to stand for particular specific things in the experienced universe. Which is fine while the particular vocal symbol is attached to something more or less unambiguous such as "cat" or "grass" . But it becomes tricky when the word refers to something ambiguous. "Jesus Christ" "word" "eternal" "father" will strike each hearer in very different ways and evoke very different agglomerations of meaning.

This ambiguity allows people with quite different world views to stand together and say the creed without crossing their fingers. But the path towards God is a path towards truth. As we draw nearer, the fuzzy concepts become less and less helpful. At some point, the reality itself is all that is there, and to try and wrap what is into some well worn religious cliche such as " he rescues us from hell" becomes difficult and pointless.

Richard Rohr says that religious systems are about personal growth. When they degenerate and stop being about that they become systems of belonging, ie systems for defining in ever more excruciating detail who is in and who is out. I suspect that this is the real function of the way we have used our creeds and doctrines for many years.
Anonymous said…
Hi Kelvin,

Happy New Year.

Very wise words you've written.
I agree, and have felt the same way for years. But I'm not able to express this view in words so clearly.

Yours in Christ,

Julian

PS.

I hope some of this makes sense. :)

I do believe ('at many points' and 'during our real life journeys' that words fall away, at many times.

So does theology.

God as we understand him/her; God's reality in love, in Christ, takes over.

God simply protects and heals and brings new life, whether we are struggling to survive, or have just won lotto.

Prayer helps in unknown ways, as well. (I feel)

Inviting through prayer the "Peace of Christ" or saying the Lord's Prayer or any Prayer of thanks, for me, activates something very deeply joyful and redeeming. And very deeply powerful and loving in the universe. (I call this God)

My God, and my Christ is redeeming beyond words. (Beyond what I deserve.)

And in some way, like what the 'Cloud of Unknowing' shares with us. It's so real, we can't write about it. We can only experience and/or live it now.

We can't bother God, with good or bad theology, and we can't stop God from Loving us completely, warts and all.

Agape,

J.

Kelvin wrote:
"And as for the specific matters of belief you raise, I guess that's pretty much the point. I suspect that a phrase like " Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of the Father" is something that you, me and John Spong could all say we absolutely believed. But of course we all mean quite different things by the words. This is because words are... well... words. Language is by its very nature metaphorical. Particular arrangements of syllables are agreed to stand for particular specific things in the experienced universe. Which is fine while the particular vocal symbol is attached to something more or less unambiguous such as "cat" or "grass" . But it becomes tricky when the word refers to something ambiguous. "Jesus Christ" "word" "eternal" "father" will strike each hearer in very different ways and evoke very different agglomerations of meaning.

This ambiguity allows people with quite different world views to stand together and say the creed without crossing their fingers. But the path towards God is a path towards truth. As we draw nearer, the fuzzy concepts become less and less helpful. At some point, the reality itself is all that is there, and to try and wrap what is into some well worn religious cliche such as " he rescues us from hell" becomes difficult and pointless.

Richard Rohr says that religious systems are about personal growth. When they degenerate and stop being about that they become systems of belonging, ie systems for defining in ever more excruciating detail who is in and who is out. I suspect that this is the real function of the way we have used our creeds and doctrines for many years."