Not quite the story you think you know

Image credit: Vatican Library

The sun rose over a perfect garden: lush, fruitful, populated by a wide variety of plants and animals and fungi. Two primates woke from their slumber, stretched their limbs, and rose to perform their morning ablutions down by the river.

“I’ve been thinking,” the male said, half to himself and half to his female companion, “that this whole setup seems somewhat implausible.”

The female turned to the male, a quizzical expression on her face.

“Funnily enough, that’s just what I’ve been thinking too,” she said.

They completed their morning toilet and strolled off to collect berries from a convenient nearby bush.

“I mean,” the male continued, emboldened by his companion’s encouragement, “I don’t really understand how we can exist. Here we are, surrounded by dangerous predators, and we don’t have any defensive capabilities. It’s astonishing we haven’t been devoured by one of the lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, pythons, bears, or wolves that live all around us. They’re happy enough to chase and rip into deer, springbok, rabbits, dik-dik, those odd feathery clucking things that are always getting underfoot, and pretty much any other edible living creature. But when we appear they just nod politely and step aside. It’s as if basic evolutionary mechanisms somehow don’t apply to us.”

His companion furrowed her brow thoughtfully. “I concur. Not only that, but from an ecosystem perspective things are implausible too. I mean we have some humid rainforest over in that corner, a waterfall that has no source over there, something that looks like savannah in the center, and frankly I can’t see how all these trees can co-exist with the grass underfoot that’s competing for access to light and nutrients.”

“Not to mention the sharks swimming happily in the freshwater river,” the male said. “For some reason they look awfully like saltwater species to me.”

“And what about those enormous bones that keep emerging from the eroded rock?” the female went on. “They don’t seem to be the right scale for any of the animals we see here. So that would imply things were different in the past, but…”

“I know,” the male said. “That odd fellow with the flaming sword keeps telling us all this was made just a short while ago. And that is also entirely unlikely. Gravitational attraction would require at least a million years for a sphere of this size to accrete, and then hundreds of millions of years thereafter to cool to habitable temperatures. Frankly, I think we’re being lied to. And why does he feel it’s necessary to wander about with a flaming sword anyway? It’s all most peculiar.”

“What irritates me most of all,” the female said, pointing ahead of herself, “is that thing over there. Flaming sword guy says first of all that it’s the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then says we’re forbidden to eat its fruit. Talk about a mind fuck.”

They strolled up to the tree. It was not particularly distinguished, differing little from its deciduous cousins all around. Unlike the orange and lime and lemon trees, and unlike the trees that yielded nuts, the Tree of Knowledge merely had nutritionally deficient ripe apples perpending from its branches.

“Obviously it’s not the Tree of Keeping Scurvy Away,” the female commented sarcastically. “Not much Vitamin C in apples. Likewise merely trace elements of protein, no useful fats, and frankly no particular reason for anyone to consider it a worthwhile addition to the ecosystem.”

“I wonder how anyone could be so obtuse as to think that abstract absolutes like good and evil could have any relevance in the real world, given that all morality is relative? It’s as if they’d never even heard of the Trolleycar Problem,” the male said, his voice betraying a slight irritation. “I mean, it’s almost as if whoever stuck us here thinks we’re as thick as shit and won’t see how intellectually inadequate all of this is.”

They decided to leave sampling the apples to another day and headed back to their makeshift bower. A gentle rain dampened their skin and then the sun came out and warmed them pleasantly.

“I tell you what I’m most immediately worried about,” the female said, sotto voce in case anyone was listening, “it’s that guy with the flaming sword. Yesterday he told us we were made by some invisible magical creature who also made everything else in the universe. And then,” she paused to stifle a snort of derision, “he told us we have magical invisible souls!”

The male laughed out loud. “I know!” he said, “I could barely keep a straight face! He appears to understand nothing whatsoever about either thermodynamics or evolution!”

“I don’t think anyone who’s so clearly off their head should be allowed to wander about with a lethal weapon,” she said. “I mean, what sort of civic policy would that be? He ought to be in some sort of institution where he could be properly cared for.”

They reached their bower. Scattered on the ground were various pieces of parchment they’d made by flattening reeds with round stones. They’d invented writing and mathematics along with quill pens and dark ink the day before and the parchments bore witness to their early efforts at both poetry and differential calculus. One of the parchments had EDEN written in large letters along the top and then immediately underneath various acronyms they’d attempted to see if they could make sense of their environment. Their best effort so far was:





The female looked down at the parchments and then turned to the male. “Personally I’m now leaning toward Empirically Deficient Empty Nonsense,” she said.

“I was wondering,” the male said, shifting the conversation in a more immediately useful direction, “whether we should use a base two, a base ten, or a base twelve number system? Mind you, there’s something to be said for base sixty as well.”

“It all depends,” the female replied. “I think we’re years away from inventing mechanical calculators, and the advantage of base ten is that we’ve been equipped with ten digits.”

“True enough,” the male answered, “but by that logic I could argue for a base twenty-one system.”

The female chuckled and shook her head. “You do know that’s irredeemably sexist, right? Not that we’ve invented sexism yet. But I’m sure we’ll get round to it eventually.”

“That’s another thing,” the male said, suddenly serious. “The future. According to flaming sword guy, we’re supposed to be the progenitors of our species. But that means our children will have to inter-breed and that would quickly result in a race of genetically defective morons. Surely that can’t be the future of our species?”

“It’s a horrible thought,” the female agreed. “Imagine a world of obese dull-eyed drooling idiots chanting whatever simple-minded slogans they were fed. Ugh!”

“Basically none of this adds up,” the male concluded. “Which means…”

They stared at each other for several moments, neither wishing to be the one to voice the only possible conclusion.

The female eventually spoke. “That we’re living inside the mind of some primitive ignoramus whose knowledge of reality is so deficient that this is the best he can do.”

They both sighed.

“Oh well,” the female said, “at least we can console ourselves with the knowledge that after we’ve disappeared in a puff of logic, no one else will be silly enough to fall for this puerile fairytale.”

Behind a large thornbush nearby, flaming sword guy overheard their words. He pondered for several minutes before finally deciding it would be kinder not to tell them what was actually going to happen in the long dark years ahead.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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