Thursday, May 13, 2010

Increase As Meter of Obedience



On Being Fruitful and Increasing

By John Taylor; 2010 May 13, Jamal 15, 167 BE

My ten-year-old son requested that I read the Book of Genesis as part of our daily study session. I had read the book before of course, silently, but never aloud to an audience unfamiliar with the text. I was quite surprised at their reaction to that obscure passage between Eden and the advent of Noah with that seemingly endless list of prodigiously long-lived and long-named patriarchs, each living for an age and then dropping out with the formula, "...and then he died." My small audience reacted with increasing puzzlement followed by hilarity at the glum quietus each suffered. Humour is not something I expected to find in Genesis; it sounds like material for somebody's Ph.D. thesis. The kids demanded to know what this string of patriarchs was all about but I said to wait until we read the Iqan and Some Answered Questions.

Another surprise on this reading was that the formula, "be fruitful and multiply" is not confined to one passage, it is repeated throughout Genesis. God says it at the first creation, Eden, and at the second creation, after Noah. It goes out at the start of every revelation. It surely led to the principle that Baha'is call "universal education."

Some Biblical translations say, "Be fruitful and increase in number," since the mathematical idea of multiplication is a recent development. But even if it somehow did mean "multiply," God was pointing to nature in general, not to exploding the human population until ecosystems collapse and all die together. That would hardly be increase, would it? Surely what is meant is the reverse of our cancerous increase at all costs. If so, Genesis is talking about what biology now calls "species diversity," as well as what is called "biomass," the total weight of living creatures.

I just listened to a distressing new TED speech about the harm that we are doing to the world's oceans through neglect, overfishing and pollution. The talk took place before the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, so it is worse now. It struck me even harder how unjust it is for some to place the blame for all this frenetic destruction on the divine dictum. God is pointing right at nature, He is telling us to take it upon ourselves to see that nature prospers.

The implication is that the number of plants and animals acts as an indicator of whether we are corrupt or pure in our obedience to God. God ended the first creation with a flood because, God asserts, men had become "corrupt." As this oceanographer points out in his speech, we have dredged the sea bottom to the point where over huge areas the beautiful coral now literally looks brown, like some desolate farmer's plowed field. If the land under the seas were visible as the land is to us, we would be very afraid. We have done all we could to destroy the oceans, in disobedience of divine decree.

High Surface Area Natural Spaces

On the other hand, let us be optimistic. To reverse our disobedience of God's first command would not be too difficult. After we form a world government we could reverse the depredation of the oceans. And I do not mean just by stopping those crazy subsidies that Spain and other small countries give to their fishermen to go about plowing the sea bottom. Corrupt subsidies of several kinds underwrote this disastrous sea floor dredging operation, as well as other maritime disasters, such as dead zones, caused by agricultural runoff. Nor would it just mean stopping offshore drilling for oil that nobody but a few rich people really needs. I am talking about positive measures that we could do to obey God by really increasing biomass and species diversity.

It is well known how to increase species diversity under the sea. Divers have long observed that sunken ships vastly increase the number of plants and fish just by increasing the available surface area. Wrecks and uneven ground provide hiding places for many plants, herbivores and carnivores. As a result, it has been proposed that we make artificial reefs by dumping old ships and just about any other large object into coastal areas. In places where this was tried, both species diversity and the harvest from coastal fisheries increased dramatically. I have been thinking about how to do this on a much larger scale.

One idea is to use sand structures. Researchers recently bred a new kind of bacteria that rapidly change sand into sandstone. Amazingly, a computer with CAD/CAM software can direct these bacteria to build any shape they please. With this, we could sculpt the sea floor in whatever ways scientists deem most beneficial. So, instead of subsidizing fishermen to destroy the oceans, why not hire the same people to drive along every coast in supertankers full of sand, dumping huge artificial sandstone reefs onto the sea floor. After plying the coasts for a few years, who knows how much more biomass the oceans could support?

And why confine ourselves to the seas?

We could enlist these sandstone manufacturing bacteria to create natural places with a maximal surface area. We could turn boring prairies into hilly, sculped land surfaces of whatever form ecologists deem desirable. With research and experience, we could replenish the diversity that existed before humans came along. We could have a maximal amount of biomass.

By supercharging the number and diversity of species of land creatures, our forests would become healthier than ever before, especially if we take into account the recently discovered importance of fungi to forest ecosystems. We could sculpt the forest floor specifically for the support of mushrooms and other fungi. That way we would fulfill the first divine command to the human race, to multiply the fruits of nature. But why restrict ourselves to that? With the parable of the talents, Jesus intensified the first commandment, and shifted it to the human world. The parable states that God is less than pleased when we fail to develop human talent as well as that of nature.

In order to do that, we could mix cities with these supercharged rural and natural areas. Done wisely, this would increase both the fruitfulness of the human and the natural world, both at once. Studies recently found that a five minute walk in a forest path while using one's mind to converse or solve a puzzle has a more powerful effect on our well-being than a full dose of antidepressant. By mixing nature with artificial landscapes we would probably increase human happiness to heights it has never before attained.


No comments: