The Paradox Of The First Common Ancestor

We have no appropriate label
And it seems, well, insulting, a bit
But I really can’t see
Using “He”, or else “She”,
And it almost feels weird using “It”

It’s the most insignificant being
Just a blip—microscopically small
It may not have been strong
But it passed life along—
It’s the ancestor…thing…to us all!

The precise “when and where” it existed
Back some three and a half billion years
Can’t be known, quite precisely
(We’ve asked really nicely),
But just one was the first, it appears.

It was likely short-lived and untraveled
Left no record in stone for today
It was so un-colossal
It left not a fossil
Except, as it were… DNA

No one ever was less influential
No one ever has been so unknown!
So uncommon, so small,
No disciples at all!
And it died—or divided—alone.

No one ever was more influential
More than Presidents, Prophets, or Kings
From completely unknown
How this “first thing” has grown
To the grand-it of all living things

Ok, so this one is inspired by a really annoying post–just a small part of a post I really wanted to vivisect and devour, but which ultimately I found just too distasteful. A theologist–indeed, an associate minister–who, in this post, claims he is “not religious”. Because, you see, his particular approach to christianity is different from all other religions–in fact, he agrees with atheists about all those other religions!

He begins by invoking the muse… that is, by making the tired claim that as soon as a believer says something online, the ravenous dogs of atheism will attack. This will allow him to dismiss anything, say, I might write about his argument. A silly argument is a silly argument, and that is not an attack on a believer–it is calling a pig a pig.

He spends some time making sure you know he has seen those silly other religions, and that he finds them as silly as you do. He refers to Mircea Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane”, and allows that it describes religion quite well… though it does seem to have failed to encompass Protestant Christianity! Well, of course his own faith is categorically different from all these other religions! (Mind you, I read “The Sacred and the Profane” back when I was a Protestant Christian, and I was astonished at what similarities my own religion had with all these others! Indeed, Eliade is one of the eye-openers that showed me that my teachers were wrong–that my religion was not, in fact, categorically different!)

Yes, Protestant Christianity is different, because of its rationality. Seriously. Well, because of its apologetics, actually, but those are really the same thing–arguing from premises to conclusions or from conclusions to premises is just quibbling.

Which leads us to “transcendence”. Which cannot possibly be explained without a god. Order, hope, play, humor, and damnation are transcendent because ipse dixit. Evolution could not select for a belief in the transcendent, after all! (Nor peacock’s tails, nor altruism, nor pareidolia, given a sufficiently simplistic understanding of evolution.)

Lastly, he speaks of the “Paradox of Jesus”, which is the inspiration for today’s verse.

How is it that a man who lived a short life, died as a criminal, left no writings and few followers, never travelled more than a few days’ walk from his birthplace, and lived and died in an obscure corner of a vast empire end up having so much influence in the world? No other religious leader lived a life like this—all others lived lives from which you could explain their influence. And yet few have come close in terms of global and historical impact.

Really? The humble beginnings of the First Common Ancestor are more remote, more humble, more improbable by every measure than some cult-leading rabbi some mere thousands of years back. And that rabbi is followed by tens of thousands of splinter groups that interpret his words differently–globally, about a third of the population of one species. The First Common Ancestor has influenced every creature currently living on earth, from archaea to bacteria to fungi to plants to animals to the top of the evolutionary ladder, cephalopods.

Ok, if you really want to see the original post, it’s here. But if you get as annoyed as I did, don’t blame me.


  1. says

    Ok, if you really want to see the original post, it’s here.

    I’m good. I trust the honesty of your interpretation. Thanks anyway.

  2. Callinectes says

    The first common ancestor would be difficult to identify, because it means determining which organic complex first counted as a living organism. The Last Universal Common Ancestor would be, comparatively, easier to know.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    And by the site’s logic, that makes the first common ancestor all the more obscure, yet all the more influential, ergo it must be Jesus.

    Or something.

  4. Trebuchet says

    I’m pretty sure “it” is entirely appropriate for the first (or last) common ancestor, since they undoubtedly multiplied by dividing (there’s a paradox for you) or were otherwise not sexually dimorphic.

    NOT going to click the link.

  5. hoary puccoon says


    Is the Last Universal Common Ancestor necessarily the same thing as the first life form?

    Given how soon life appeared after the earth was cool enough, isn’t it possible there were a lot of abiogenetic events, and we’re all (all, as in all known life forms) descended from the one lucky form that beat out the competition?

    In fact, if it’s true, as someone hypothesized, that abiogenesis occurred in white smokers (which are rare, and under lots of sea water) isn’t it possible that abiogenesis is still going on, but the novel life forms get gobbled up by viruses or bacteria before they can reproduce and spread?

    I’m not trying to start an argument, I’d just really like to know if there’s a known answer to those questions, and if so, what it is.

  6. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    Well, Jesus himself has had no influence in the world. As was nearly admitted, there is no evidence that he even ever existed. The idea of Jesus, and the stories, and the cults, now they have had influence. Mostly by splitting and spreading and taking advantage of the fact there is no truth to be hampered by. But still, in the end, not having as much influence as the cultists want.

  7. Cuttlefish says

    Heh… Menyambal, I remember talking to my brother on his 33rd birthday; he was a bit down in the dumps, comparing what he had accomplished at that point to what Jesus had, what with dying at age 33 and all. I reminded him that he (my brother) had fathered two daughters, while He (Jesus) had allowed what could be argued to be the most astonishing genetic makeup in history (God’s Own DNA, after all) to be squandered on no children at all! By any biological measure, my brother was far more successful than Jesus, and far more influential in the real sense. The *idea* of Jesus, however, we shall see. The *idea* of my brother has touched people throughout his life and after his death; let’s give it a couple thousand years, and see how they fare. I’m doing my part to spread the idea of my brother–he did far more good while he was alive than Jesus did; if there is any justice*, he’ll do more after his death as well.

    *there isn’t. But there’s no way I am gonna let that stop me.

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