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Without a Leg to Stand On
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Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Wendy Wippel

Although theologians have puzzled for years over the location of the Garden of Eden, (with an amazing assortment of conclusions), the Jewish tradition has always been Jerusalem.  And now –no surprise--evidence of Eden’s principal antagonist has been found right where Jewish tradition would have expected it. In the City of David itself.

The events that transpired in the Garden of Eden, obviously, changed the course of history for humanity, and we all know the story.  Satan, in the guise of a serpent, convinced Eve to doubt God, and because of the opening Eve gave to sin, all of mankind has lived under the curse of death ever since.

What we don’t think about, (and, really, why should we) is that it also changed the world of herpetology, the study of snakes. And I can prove it from the Scriptures.

The skeletons of two separate snakes have now been recovered from Ein Yabrud, a part of ancient Israel, now a Palestinian town in the central west bank.

According to Alexandra Houssaye, herpetologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, both date to about 100,000 years ago, (for what that’s worth).  

The first skeleton discovered was named Pachyrhachis problematicus. Pachyrachis, considered the root of the serpent family tree, dated to slightly more than 100,000 years old.  The second, Haasiophis terrasanctus, dated to slightly under. Houssaye named these two snakes the oldest snakes ever found.

Both these snakes shook up the world of herpetologists, for two reasons. First, because the skeleton of Pachyrhachis seems to imply (to herpetologists) that snakes descended from water lizards, while that of Haasiophis seems to indicate descent from land lizards.

(I’ve spent my whole life in research, and believe, me, these kinds of seemingly inconsequential debates can really get those professorial  panties in a big wad. 

The second reason the herpetological world was all shook up was that both these snakes had hind legs.  Sophisticated medical imaging, in fact, observed a pair of hind legs, bent at the knees.

The scientists involved, seeking to make sense of their observations, counted the number of evolutionary steps that it would take to create limbs where there were none, and the number of steps needed in order to lose limbs that were there.  The math suggested that it was more likely that odds are that the Jerusalem fossils represented legs in the evolutionary process of being lost, a phenomenon they called “evolutionary reversal”. (Which seems to me to be a point for the book of Genesis anyway.)

But I digress.

"We know of at least 62 lizard and snake lineages that have undergone some degree of limb reduction," said Olivier Rieppel, a herpetologist at the Field Museum at Chicago. "Since our fossil record of snakes is very poor, we can't exclude the possibility that limbs in snakes were lost not just once in the beginning, but several times throughout their history."

How did they lose them?  They explain:  “Snakes lost their legs by growing them more slowly or for a shorter period of time until the legs eventually disappeared. “

I’m quoting that verbatim. I really am.

I am a molecular biologist, and it is definitely true that all species change over time through a process called microevolution, where certain environmental factors can drive microevolution in one way or another, which causes physiological changes in animals over time. But never beyond the “kinds” that God set down in Genesis.

Even when scientists try very hard to do so, typically in animals with very short reproductive cycles, like fruit flies. In these kinds of animals, because you can monitor thousands and thousands of generation in a the lifetime of a human researcher, you can watch evolution in real time. And even then, you can’t push changes past the set “type”, even artificially, and as soon as you stop trying, your colony reverts quickly to “wild type” , i.e., the natural state.

So, “How did Snakes lose their legs”?  (The title of the article at discovery.com) According to the article, it may be that the snakes’ legs hampered burrowing on land, or made survival more difficult for some other unknown reason, so evolution favored the legless variety, through multiple generations, until all snakes were legless.

It’s possible.  But all the speculation in the world doesn’t change the fact that we actually have, in the Bible, not only a how (God ordained it), but a why ( As punishment for whatever role the serpent had in mankind’s fall.)

And a where, actually. The Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:13-14: 

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:

“Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life.

So let the skeptics speculate and ridicule the Biblical account.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible labels Genesis 3:13-14 as contrary to science, and absurd.

Absurd designated by an oh-so-tolerant-of other’s- views’ symbol of a laughing jester: 

But all the scorn and skepticism in the world doesn’t change the fact that the Bible clearly states, several thousand years before Pachyrhachis or Haasiophis was discovered (in the Jerusalem area) that the original serpents (in the Jerusalem area) had legs.

Hind ones, anyway. Think GEICO gecko. 

So how did the Jerusalem skeletons change the world of herpetology?

The word herpetology comes from the Greek “herpien”.  Which means to creep.  Without the Garden of Eden? They would have been Perepatologists, meaning, in Greek, “to walk”.

And we’d still be walking in Eden.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Final Fortress

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