Our Origins
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Our Origins

Every culture has a myth about how life began -- that is, if we call science a culture and evolution a myth. The Judeo-Christian tradition, again relying on the authority of the Bible, claims that God created each individual being, from sea creatures to humans. Evolutionists believe that beings adapted and changed over time, developing from simple organisms, like amoeba, to complex ones, like humans. This is the fundamental debate between creationism and evolution. Here are the basics of each belief.

Adam and Eve in Eden
Science's Answers:

Life on earth appeared about 3.5 million years ago, as the fossil record shows. First there were cyanobacteria and stromatolites about 3 million years ago. Eukaryotes appeared less than 2 million years ago. The last million years saw the appearance of animals with backbones, flowering plants and -- recently, in the scheme of things, humans. This means that there was a gap of over 3 million years between the first appearance of life and the advent of human beings.
We are assuming that life began on Earth (there are theories that life began on another planet and/or was brought to earth encased in meteorites). The preparations for life began soon after the Earth cooled, but the frequent bombardment by asteroids and space debris kept the formation at bay. There is, of course, a missing link. We know when life originated and how it changed and diversified, but the "hows" are still unclear. We know that, somehow, nonbiological carbon-based molecules began RNA and DNA chemistry. Those first basic organisms developed v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y over millions of years. The earliest organisms made nutrients through various forms of synthesis, like photosynthesis that plants still use today. In addition, there were several mass extinctions, including the K/T collision, that caused dramatic reductions in biodiversity.

Religion's Answers:

Creationists believe that the creation myth presented in the Book of Genesis is true, although some do believe that the six 'days' described therein were longer than twenty-four hours each. God created animals and humans on the fifth and sixth days. (For info about the first four days, click "the Earth" in the left-hand column). On the fifth day, He created the beasts of the waters and birds of the skies. On the sixth day, he first created the beasts of the land and all the cattle. Then, "God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female, he created them" (Genesis 1:27). The story goes that God fashioned a man, first, out of clay and "breathed" life into him. This man, Adam, named all the creatures of the world. Later, God made a companion for Adam, woman, using one of Adam's ribs for a template.
It is interesting to note that Genesis 1:27 has male and female being created together, but in 2:21-25 details how woman was created after man. The reason? According to Jewish commentary (midrash), Adam's first wife, created at the same time, was Lilith. She was disobedient and was banished from the garden. Adam's second wife, Eve, was more to his liking.
Adam and Eve had many children, and (obviously) their descendants populated the Earth. Many critics have a problem with this incestous beginning to humankind. Creationists defend their beliefs by claiming that God probably did not stop creating after Adam and Eve, so Cain and Abel did not necessarily mate with their sisters. Humankind was scattered into different cultures with different languages after the flood, with the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.