I am thirty years old. In those thirty years I have heard the creation stories probably hundreds of times. I have heard the second one where woman is created from Adam’s rib hundreds of times. All of that time I have been told (and unthinkingly believed) that women had one more rib than men. It just fits so nicely with the story! You heard me correctly. I… a scientist… a trained questioner of the world… never questioned this. Recently I was humbled when I was informed that this is NOT THE CASE AT ALL.
Men and women BOTH have 12 pairs of ribs. There are exceptions where people have one less pair or one extra pair, but those mutations happen rarely and equally between men and women. How could I believe this for so long and never question it? Once I started to think about it, I realized how scientifically it made absolutely no sense to think that old way.
First of all, we inherit traits from our parents through genes. This is called “Mendelian Inheritance”. Even if we took the creation story to be literally true (which Catholics don’t because it’s a different genre of book, a lesson for another day), Adam’s genes were not altered when his rib was removed. Since his genes stayed the same, coding for 12 sets of ribs, his descendants would inherit those original “anatomical blue prints”.
Once upon a time, there was a flawed theory called “Lamarckian Inheritance” that said things done later in life could be passed down to offspring, but think about it. If you cut off your hand, that doesn’t mean your kids will only have one hand. If you work out every day and become super buff, your future child isn’t going to be born with a six-pack. That’s not how it works. One convincing argument I saw AGAINST the flawed theory was about Jewish men. They’ve been circumcising baby boys for MILLENIA, and yet they keep having to circumcise them! No new inherited trait there.
“Well, Dani, if God can do ANYTHING, what if when He took out the rib he altered Adam’s DNA along with it?” You could guess that, but then it would be ALL of his offspring that would inherit this trait, not just the women. In order for only the women to have an extra rib, the rib would have to be a sex-linked trait. It would have to be on the X or Y chromosome. I am here to tell you that it is not. Ribs are made identically in men and women because they are coded for by the same gene whether you have XX or XY chromosomes.
Even though men and women have the same number of ribs, there are still plenty of other physical differences between the two. (Some interesting stats on this are listed here.) The Catholic Church celebrates those differences, lifting up the dignity of women. In fact, in 1988, Pope John Paul II wrote the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women which extolls the greatness of femininity that has been gifted them by God. I love one passage from it especially:
“A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God ‘entrusts the human being to her’, always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation.
Thus the ‘perfect woman’ (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit.” (No. 30)
As a mother, I feel blessed that God entrusted the carrying of a child to me, but this “entrusting” is so much more. We as women are entrusted the care of all. This gift is exemplified through the most holy woman, Mary, the Mother of God. That apostolic letter says, “The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in union with God. Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation.” (No. 5)
I’ve seen the above image depicting “the woman” from Revelation, which we understand to be Mary, but this next line from the letter made me marvel at how truly powerful that image is. “She is "a woman clothed with the sun", with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars (cf. Rev 12:1). One can say she is a Woman of cosmic scale, on a scale with the whole work of creation.” (No. 30 Mulieris Dignitatem)
I think it is wonderful that the Church chooses this reading from Genesis on the creation of woman for this coming Sunday, the first Sunday in October, because in October we celebrate Mary by deeming it the month of the Rosary. All of humanity is entrusted to Mary. At the cross, Jesus turns to John and tells him, “Behold your mother.” It is at this point that Jesus is telling us that Mary is mother of us all. We are to love her and rely on her. Because of this, we have an entire month dedicated to speaking with her through the praying of the rosary. During this month we are encouraged to reach out to our mother for all our needs.
Mary intercedes for us to her son, Jesus. What good son wouldn’t listen to the requests of his mother? So we are encouraged to turn to our heavenly mother with all of our needs. She loves us and wants to help us. During this month, I hope that you will join me in praying the rosary more often. It is simple and repetitive, giving us no excuse to why we can’t take 15 minutes each day and talk with our Mother. She would love to hear from you.
Link to Full Text of Mulieris Dignitatem: https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html