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Monday, August 12, 2013


Otto Normalverbraucher [God, I love these internet names!] notes that I did not actually explain, a year ago, the real meaning of the familiar expression, "the mark of Cain."  [By the way, ein normalverbraucher is an "average consumer."  Roughly speaking, Joe Sixpack or The Man on the Street.  Nice.]  So, here goes.

The expression is today used universally to mean a mark put on one by God to reveal one's wickedness or sinfulness.  An evil person is said to bear The Mark of Cain.  But in fact, the original and correct meaning is entirely different.  So, settle down for a little Bible story.

Our text for today's sermon is Genesis, Chapter 4.  Briefly, Adam knew Eve, and she bore him a son, Cain.  And he knew her again, and she bore him a second son, Abel.  Abel was a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil.  And Cain brought grain from the field to the Lord as an offering, and Abel brought a lamb from his flock as his offering.  And the Lord was pleased with Abel's offering, and was not as pleased with Cain's offering.  This angered Cain, who rose up and slew his brother, Abel.  When the Lord asked Cain where his brother Abel was, Cain lied, saying "I know not.  Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Lord was angry with Cain, and cursed him.  Cain cried out that his punishment was more than he could bear.  Cain said he would be a fugitive and a vagabond, and everyone he met would slay him.  "And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.  AND THE LORD SET A MARK UPON CAIN, LEST ANY FINDING HIM SHOULD KILL HIM."  [Genesis, 4:13  My emphases.]

So in fact the Mark of Cain is intended by God as a protection, a warning off of anyone who might be inclined to kill the vagabond and fugitive Cain.

The story of course raises a number of questions, such as, Who is there in the world who might kill Cain, since at this point only Adam and Eve and Cain are alive.  We might also wonder whom Cain found to marry when he went to the Land of Nod on the East of Eden and founded the city of Enoch, called after his son of the same name.  But that subject has already been well explored in the great old movie, Inherit the Wind, with Ralph Bellamy and Spencer Tracy.

By the way, the effort by Southern preachers to justify slavery usually references the story of Noah and his three sons, one of whom, Ham, sees Noah in his tent drunk and naked, and is cursed by Noah for this breach of filial piety, saying that Ham's descendants shall henceforth serve the descendants of his brothers Shem and Japheth.  Ham, the preachers implausibly claim, was Black, and the forebear of all Africans, who were thus condemned by Noah to be slaves.  But some apologists for slavery trace the cursed condition of Black people all the way back to Cain, who is said [without any Biblical justification] to have been turned black by God's curse.

So keep it in mind.  If you come across someone bearing the Mark of Cain, hands off.  God has dibs.


Michael Llenos said...

To me there was never a problem with creationism versus evolution in the Bible. In Genesis 1:1-31 it sounds like evolution of life on earth. In Genesis 2:5-23 it sounds like creationism. There is no problem in accepting the two if you acknowledge that there were two creations of human beings. It would make more sense if a person believed a day equals a thousand years (or perhaps a billion) and a thousand years equals a day in the mind of God. You could also interpret Isaiah 45:11-12 to mean that God used aliens to create mankind during the second phase of mankinds creation.

J.R. said...

My favorite piece of the Cain legendarium is that line in Beowulf where we are told that all the monsters of the world--Grendel, the elves, the giants, and the orcs--all descend from Cain. It is an economical use of Biblical lore to tame some incredibly messy folktales.

Magpie said...

Although I am an agnostic, I grew up in a more or less Catholic household.

This means that until my early teen years I had a religious education, although today I barely recall the general gist of the stories (some 40 years since then!).

I do remember, however, asking myself at the time something like: "Why on earth would God want Abel to kill a poor lamb? Wouldn't it have been much better to just take Cain's veggies?"

I don't think I ever voiced the question: the religious studies teacher was a Spanish priest. At the time, teachers were still allowed to apply some light physical punishment.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

It is fascinating that blood sacrifice was preferred to something like a pot of rice or potatoes. God comes across in the story as a very unpleasant chap. It is also interesting that, contrary to what one might suppose, it is the older son's sacrifice that is rated below that of the younger son.

Note, by the way, that after Cain and Abel, Adam [and presumably Eve, although the Good Book does not say] goes on to have many more children. As the Bible itself says, "There were giants in the earth in those days," a phrase that was used as a book title by Rolvaag, whose novel we all had to read in high school [along with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.]

Chris said...

"To me there was never a problem with creationism versus evolution in the Bible. In Genesis 1:1-31 it sounds like evolution of life on earth."

That's only if you read Genesis so myopically, a key hole would magnify the text; If one knows anything about the evolution of the universe that is.

For instance the earth appears to be evolve before the sun, and light. Impossible.

Somehow stars and "great lights" come after trees. Another evolutionary absurdity.

Then Fish and such appear after fruit trees and vegetation, and at the same time as birds. Evolutionarily false. Also live stock is appearing before birds, which is kinda odd, and really the neglect to mention dinosaurs is kinda stark.

Even if you made the days equal a thousand or a billion, they would have to change depending on the day. Of course the universe is 14.7 billion years old, so a billion isn't enough to cover each day. And since evolution really started taking off in full force close to a million years ago, days would have to be starkly different numbers depending on what God's saying.

For a dude whose omniscient, he sure leaves his believers with impossible riddles and lacks basic analytic clarity.

I'd suggest picking up Neil DeGrasse Tyson's 'Origins' for a much more lucid account of cosmic and human evolution.

Don Schneier said...

Evolutionary theory is a challenge to more than the Creationist aspect of traditional Biblical Theology. For, if it is true, then beings that are superior to humans will someday, assuming that it has not already occurred, populate the earth. So, the purported "crown of creation" will be surpassed, with questionable implications for the entity in whose image that crown was created.

Chris said...

I don't think that's true either. No being is "superior" to another in an evolutionary sense, each is just evolving and adapting to a particular set of environmental circumstances, aiming to survive for as long as possible, but inevitably going extinct. Many creatures have inhabited the earth longer than humans, and certainly can outlive us. Do we denote them as superior?

We may have superior intelligence compared to other species, but we also have many handicaps: we aren't as fast as many, cannot see as well as others, cannot hear as well as others, are excessively violent, require 9 months to give birth and a remarkably long time to raise our young to be self-fulfilling, etc.

Don Schneier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Schneier said...

Chris--Which "that" is not true? That according to Evolutionary theory, some creatures are more highly evolved than others? That according to traditional Biblical Theology, humans are superior to all other terrestrial beings? The issue is not what you happen to believe, but the objective relation between the two doctrines, which, I'll re-assert, is more problematic for Creationism than has been hitherto appreciated. If you have anything else to say, please stick to the stated point.

Chris said...

Well given my previous posts it's clear I don't take anything in the bible seriously. Like Wolff I'm an atheist, unlike Wolff, I don't care enough to read the whole bible.

Nevertheless, I was directly addressing your claim that under evolutionary terms we are "higher" animals. This is not true by evolutionary, which has nothing to say about higher and lower animals compared to fellow survivors. The theory only helps to account for the diversity of life and adaptation, it does not put forward the completely subjective and anthropomorphic (and presumptuous) conclusion that we are "higher" animals. As if the evolutionary tree of life was a great oak, upon which man stands atop.

Look at the evolutionary "tree" as more of a horizontal growing bush, and not a vertical rat race.

Don Schneier said...

On your argument, the hands of a creature without opposing thumbs are just as 'evolved' as those of a creature that are exactly the same except with opposing thumbs, and the cockroach that survives a nuclear war is as 'evolved' as a human being who does not. Also according to your argument, the following is a "subjective" and "presumptuous" definition: 'X is more highly evolved than Y' = 'X is a unity of more parts than is Y'. Clearly we speak different languages, and in yours, my concept of what presents a threat to Creativism is unthinkable and inexpressible, so there is nothing more to be said.

Chris said...

Right, the appropriate way to discuss the issue is to focus on DIFFERENCES in evolution, not higher/lower. It's not that the thumb is MORE evolved, it's that it's more fit for its particular environment. Obviously the thumb is useless if I'm living on the bottom of the ocean with gills, and live in a shell. Just as having the ability to occupy a shell is useless, if my primary habitat is atop trees. No creature is more/less evolved, they are more/less fit for their surroundings.

Here's a few articles making the similar case that I am (i.e., that evolution is about adaptation to environments ((a horizontal bush)) and not higher/lower ordering ((a vertical tree)).

Actually aside from links you should really check a few of Dawkins's book on the subject. No serious evolutionary biologist (unless they are intelligent design theorist) proposes that evolution is a higher/lower process.

And even if we were to use higher/lower, why is the human "higher" than the dolphin, or sperm whale?

Don Schneier said...

I'm not sure what that "right" is in reference to, because what you go ahead and say is not at all what I had just said. Look--what I've been saying is untranslatable into your conceptual scheme, so let's just leave it there.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Far be it from me to get in between the two of you, but Don, I have to say that I think Chris is just right on this. The notion of higher and lower here only makes sense if one assumes some telelogical goal or purpose in evolution, and all evolutionary biologists are in agreement that that notion is simply no part of the theory of natural selection, for all that it may play a role in ethical or religious interpretations and evaluations of the human condition.

Stephen J. Gould has some pointed things to say about the familiar diagram of a series of animals starting with a fish and ending with a man.

Otto Normalverbraucher said...

Returning to the mark of Cain for a moment, what jumps out at me is that it seems to provide a strong Biblical argument against execution (contrary to the "literal" Fundamentalism of my youth). Not only does Jehovah not kill Cain for murder, but he marks Cain for his own protection from other, vengeful people. That's quite a change of pace from all the stonings decreed in Exodus.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

J. R., I confess I do not recall that line, but then I read Beowulf for the one and only time in the early Fall of 1950, so maybe I can be excused!

Don Schneier said...

Bob--My point is that with a certain formal definition of 'Evolution', one that is analogous to the accepted distinction between a 'more powerful' and a 'less powerful' theory', i. e. 'more comprehensive' vs. 'less comprehensive', a difference between 'higher' and 'lower' creatures can be defined, thereby rigorously extending Evolutionary Theory in the direction vis-a-vis Creationism that I propose. The fact that such an extension has hitherto been unattempted is what I allude to when I say that it has been "hitherto unappreciated". One other implication--Darwin betrays the concept of 'Evolution' when he subordinates it to 'Survival'.

Chris said...

Right, and the counter point is that your notion of evolutionary theory being MORE comprehensive by recognizing a higher/lower order is in fact less comprehensive a theory, and lacks the explanatory power of the evolutionary accounts that don't have higher/lower order. As Wolff said check out Gould, but also Dawkins and Dennett on this issue.

Extending evolution in the direction of creationism is only going to hurt the theory not embolden it. You're clearly moving in the direction of teleology, which cannot be tested, but only asserted with religious fervor. And to propose some other mechanism behind the evolutionary process that's guiding along, only makes evolutionary theory weaker, because it makes it hinge upon something which is completely untestable and unverifiable; and yet the theory works fine without that ineffable something in the background.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Don, I don't think you can make a case that there is a hierarchy of species without importing evaluative criteria improperly into the argument. Think for a moment. Consider three very broad and general measures by which we might compare species: First, length of survival time as a species; second total number of organisms; third, total biomass of the species. By those three measures, bacteria win hands down [and mitochondria probably walk away with the prize.] But, you say, what about opposable thumbs or intelligence? Indeed, but by what objective measure are these things "better" than longevity or biomass? What about the capacity to alter the face of the earth? Well, in that case, earthworms seem to win hands down, if they only had hands. They are responsible for the existence of the soil in which plants live. How about relative dependency? Well, we cannot survive without bacteria, but they did quite well for several billion years before we came along.

I just don't see how you are going to make a case that does not pretty obviously beg the question.

David Auerbach said...

BTW, the usual "vulgar" meaning of 'mark of Cain' isn't a big stretch. After all, he was so marked to protect from being attacked because of his crime. So, it did mark him as a criminal, albeit one immune from private vengence.
I've always been much more puzzled by the popular meaning of 'Romeo' as in "He such a Romeo" or (as in the lyrics from the Supremes song) "...'cause the boy she loves is a Romeo." But the ur-Romeo was no promiscuous womanizer; his fault, if fault it be, was a 180 to that.

Don Schneier said...

Boy, what began as an innocuous quip, addressed to fans of Science Fiction, has gotten completely sidetracked by what I believe are irrelevant considerations. Let me try this again--1. Evolutionary Theory is an hypothesis applicable to not only past events, but to present ones, and future ones, as well. 2. The decisive, moment in the process that the theory describes is Mutation, in the course of which new traits can appear. 3. Among the new traits that could appear at any time between now and one million years from now are new mental and physical ones that would infinitely increase the abilities of human beings. 4. The bearers of such abilities would be infinitely superior to human beings. 5. Therefore, the appearance of beings superior to humans is consistent with Evolutionary Theory. Now, I believe that #2, suffices to surpass Creationism, which cannot match it with an explanation. And, I believe that #3 moots most of the various objections that have been presented. More generally, Bob--you can classify this extension of Evolutionary Theory as 'heuristic', in which case the charge that it is 'question-begging' is irrelevant. And, to return to the reason I bothered to introduce this in this context--the full implications of Evolutionary Theory have hardly been considered, as this ongoing discussion proves. Personally, I've found it to be a powerful model, applicable to a wide range of problems. I'm likewise well aware of some of its limitations, among which are not some of the objections that have been presented here, I believe.

Chris said...

Actually #3 and #4 are, as far as I can tell what Wolff (right Wolff?) and I are refuting, or at least objecting to.

What makes the species superior? If it's just a successful mutation, most species have those. If it's just a mutation in general, that's false, since some lead to death, and many are moot. If it's that intelligence is increased, as Wolff pointed out, it's not at all clear that our intellectual capacities are leading to beneficial things (think the entire war industry, profit industries, etc). And as far as an increase in physical capacities being a superior species, then again, there are other species with more impressive physical capacities.

The only significant factor that evolutionary theory considers is how successful is the mutation in aiding adaptation to and survival in an environment. And as Wolff said, by that count bacterium win hands down.

You need to reconsider 3-4.

Don Schneier said...

Chris--I "need" to do no such thing in the absence of a rigorous demonstration that what I propose is categorically impossible. Nor WILL I do any such thing as a response to empirical 'facts' being assembled against an assertion--that the superiority of Evolutionary Theory over Creativism is even greater than is usually recognized--that is based solely on the structural properties of a 'Theory'. So, for the final time--there is a disconnect here.

Chris said...

It's the very nature of scientific discourse that nothing can be shown to be categorically impossible. That's an obscene standard to ask me to hold.

I cannot categorically prove to you that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that gravity will continue to hold me to the earth. However, I can demonstrate that if the future is like the past, and all things being equal, things like the sun rising, and my staying flat to the earth are highly probably.

Now your criteria for advancing evolutionary theory do not actually advance it, because they impose a teleological and anthropocentric element to a theory whose application and understanding are best utilized without those added components.

If you think adding in that an increase in intelligence, and physical capability allows for a higher/lower ordering of species, then you're not justifying why those two criteria are the benchmark for higher/lower and not other criteria (e.g., weight, longevity, reproductive cycles, etc), and you're not substantiating the claim that gradual human evolution has to move up or down on the spectrum.

Chris said...

Also if I was a creationist Christian, and I'm not, I'd suspect that higher/lower ordering of humans would be those that are more or less compassionate, and enacting Christs teachings, not those that are more intelligent and have physical prowess...

Michael Llenos said...

What is the stronger and more intelligent God? Is it the God that has more patience and restraint, or is it the God who has less patience and restraint? It is obviously the God who has more patience and restraint since it takes more energy and power to be good than to be evil--and since God is omnipotent, he is good to the highest degree of goodness.

It is the same with human beings. It is the ones that are the most compassionate [and enacting of Christ's and others' saintly ethical teachings] that have the most physical prowess and the most intelligence. The reason being you must control and conquer your mind and body before you can live a righteous life.

Cain couldn't control himself so he slew pious Abel. The former is one example of someone who couldn't be good because he lacked higher intelligence and physical restraint.

Dennis J Frailey said...

It fascinates me how much discussion can be engendered by fairy tales (mark of cain, bible stories). When you stand back and think about it, it's clear that these stories were written somewhere along the line so that someone could obtain influence over someone else by claiming that "God" supported his or her point of view. And then they were distorted by later authors or story tellers to support their particular motives and objectives. How gullible we humans can be! Natural selection may get us past this infantile stage of development if we don't destroy the planet first.

KillerB1956 said...

I am unsure about the Mark of Cain but I will give my observations. The Mark of Cain is a birthmark showing that something went wrong during the pregnancy. This caused the brain to be modified such that emotions are processed in the area where others process speech. The end result is some one born with empathy. Empathy then becomes a learned process for them but it is false and thus deceitful. We call these people sociopaths or psychopaths as in the case of Cain because he did commit murder. They are bed wetters, fire starters, cruel to animals and fearless. They make good soldiers because they can kill without conscience or remorse. This makes them potentially evil. I could be wrong with this but it is my humble opinion.

I am not wrong about the false God in the Bible and creationism and evolution are both correct as the tetraploid humans were doing breeding projects. Cain was part of this breeding project.

Read my book or watch my videos for the TRUTH.

KillerB1956 said...

My post should read WITHOUT EMPATHY. Sorry..