candid musings on co-option, the sark-chasm, and adoption

Co-option is a remarkable phenomenon in evolution that one of my current writing projects touches on tangentially. Co-option is where a biological structure is re-purposed. Originally selected for function A, it acquires function B and is retained for this reason. I think it is rampant throughout life history and looks suspiciously like some things that happen in the history of human-made artefacts. Earlier this year I bought a fairly fascinating book called “the evolution of useful things” that talks about technological evolution, and I think there are some profound similarities here perhaps worth exploring by biologists, if any are suitably brave and/or clinically insane. I quite like the idea of fore-ordained repurposing, as heretical as it is within the narrow church of Naturalism.

Speaking of purpose, one of my short-term purposes in life is to not fall in to the sark-chasm. It can be interesting to camp out nearby and quizzically observe the bubbling morass as a hobby, but falling in would be dumb. As such, I’m an advocate of the little-known but soon-to-be-famous worldview of ‘Christian cynicism’. It’s certainly not to be confused with the ‘Christian hedonism’ of John Piper, which I find a little hard to comprehend; and nor is it to be confused with the embittered everyday cynicism of the educated man-on-the-street. Christian cynicism is about walking the tightrope over the sark-chasm without floating off into the candyfloss cloud castles of ‘spiritual’ naivity. “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” – Jesus. On the negative side, the world is broken and full of self-serving people who might smile at you if it makes them feel good. I think only the Christian world view can let you fully accept this without falling into the chasm of sark or despair. (Sark is British slang for sarcasm. It’s also a small island near Britain with an interesting history of governance, worth looking up). On the plus side, there is such a thing as redemption. The death of Jesus is paradoxically the death of death; perhaps it could even be said that pessimism perished on that tree – and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead allows for the repurposing of many broken things.


According to JI Packer, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.” It’s a fascinating claim. Adoption exhibits some similarities to co-option if you’re good at squinting. In a spiritual sense, because of Jesus you can have the ugly background of your ‘spiritual inheritance’ re-purposed. Yes, you, dear confused reader. One of my favourite parts in the Bible, that I’ve read many many times, is the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. In vss 5 & 6, he (the extremely religious Jewish scholar turned Christian preacher) writes concerning God: “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace  …” God chose to create a new family out of many broken rebellious people. This weekend I mark 20 years of having been adopted in a more mundane sense; this is probably a surprise to you and maybe it’s odd to just slip it in here; life is an odd and surprising thing. On a couple of occasions, ignorant people have informed me that adoption simply doesn’t work. It’s amazing what people suddenly become experts on when they get talking. When born as a chubby little human being in Waitakere Hospital, the predictions for life outcomes would have been below average, given circumstances. By the grace of God operating in very ordinary ways through ordinary people who cared, things turned out better. A pretentious example was the highlight of this year for me thus far, where at various points in my travels in July I talked for some hours with academics from Harvard, Cambridge, McGill, etc, and on the basis of my ideas, my earnestness, and the quaint novelty of my accent, I was treated as if I were an equal or an authority and made some genuine friends as well. It was rather surreal. I am grateful to God for opening so many doors throughout my life, in many crazy ways, and I’m intrigued to find out where it’s leading. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies – which is probably for the best, actually – and the hope of eternity to come is not bad either.

There has been a lot to digest here, probably more than you anticipated when you procrasti-clicked to this blog post. I hope you have an awesome week. If you’d like to talk about anything here (with the exception of my life story) I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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