Thursday, June 01, 2006

How many plants do you eat when you eat an ear of corn?

Most people would say that they are eating one plant per ear of corn, and if two ears came from the same plant, still just one plant.

This sort of intuition is handy, since it helps us appreciate various metaphysical claims about the nature of life. For instance, if the dozens of fertilized seeds in an ear of corn are part of one plant, surely a fertilized egg in a human uterus is also a part of the mother, not an independent life.

It also gets us to an interesting place with the claim that there was no death before the Fall. The claim holds that death entered the world as punishment for Adam and Eve tasting the forbidden fruit. I think it's a poor reading of Genesis, but it turns out that it underlies part of the Evangelical beef with evolution. If there was no death before the Fall, then all those fossils and all that natural selection couldn't be from before the Fall. Q.E.D.

We don't know quite how long passed between when Adam and Eve are supposed to have been created and when they are supposed to have been expelled from the Garden. We can assume that they ate at some point along the way.

And Genesis 1:29 tells us that Adam was "given ever plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; [he] shall have them for food." If this is true, and if life begins at conception, then we know that Adam either was ending lives. It's possible that some seeds would not be destroyed during ingestion, since seed distribution via feces is common enough, but there's also a mortality rate associated with it. And that rate is essentially 100% for certain kinds of plants, trees bearing nuts being one example. So, if life begins at conception, death and evolution preceded the Fall. If life begins at some point after conception, one can attempt to recover a young Earth reading of Genesis (though that fails for other reasons).

One can either be a creationist or anti-abortionist. Not both.